apj home > destinations > tall tales > Cross country in West Africa.

Over Africa
African overland expedition extract,
edited and abridged by Seamus Waldron.

Finally we are in Morocco. We now oficially can have the paraglidersgliders here in Morocco. To be precise we only have permission to take them through, but we've been flying a number of times and no-one seems to care. I think this will be the case in future wherever we go, just a matter of asking the landowner where you take off. When you're flying no-one seens to care whether it's legal or not, they're too interested in what it is.

The boarder hassles continued right up to the last minute, when we finally got past customs, the boarder gate guard wouldn't let us through because by that time our passport stamps were 4 days old and we had to go back to immigration and explain why we needed new stamps. I was almost expecting customs to want to inspect the vehicle again on the way through.

It was Friday afternoon when we got through, we drove all the way down to El-Jadida on the coast by 11pm. There has been a lot of rain recently in Morocco and we had to take a number of detours and cross some deep puddles on the road.

For the past week we have been camped at a great little camping site, very secure and with a exceptionally friandly manager. Getting all the stuff organised, welding stuff all over the truck, fixing leaks etc.

Been out flying a few times, once along the beach right in town just on sunset and had no trouble at all. We do it again with the cameras whe we get back, maybe at night time as theres lots of light along the beach.

A couple of other times we went out into the countryside to find flying sites, we certainly create quite a stirr in the small villages. The first time was the most amusing, there was absolutely no wind and it was difficuly to get a clean run for a take off. We stuffed around trying to get a launch for about 2 hours with a group of 20+ locals watching on and giving us advice about wind direction [in Arabic]. After a while they were convinced that we were purely crazy for trying to fly with a bedsheet and a propeller on a motorbike engine. One guy made a couple of donkeys out of reeds and presented them to us. He proceeded to add "male accessories" to mine and mount it on the other one, I've never been under so much pressure to get the glider into the air as I was then!

Anyway eventually we did get a perfect take off amoungst roars of cheers from our onlookers. I made a point of flying over the nearby houses and villages, and by the time I landed we had grown the croud to well over 50 people.

The other time went much more to the book, we had a Moroccan frined from town with us to help translate. When Michael first tried to ask permission from a teenage girl tending cattle in the field she burst into tears and tried to hide behind the cows. From now on I do all the negotiations with women.

We've now headed out for a short side trip to Marrakech, the trailer is with our friend at the campsite Tonight we're in a hotel in Asni, at the foot of Jebel Toubkal, we plan to travel round the Eastern side of the Atlas Mountains and back via Rabat where we will sort out Michael's Mauritainian visa and visit our friends at the Canadina embassy to give then and assertiveness lesson which they desperately need.

Having a lot of trouble getting access to a line to use the modem, there are many people with lines but they're very wary of letting us connect the computer, and generally the call to a higher authority comes up with a definate NO. The expensive hotels generally have a line to connect to, but that's a continual added expence.

Saturday we had a scenic drive through a windy Goat track at 2000m in the high Atlas mountins and then along the Draa valley to Zagora. All incredibly scenic. Climbed to the top of Jebel Zagora for some excellent photos along the Draa valley.

We the took a piste through the desert, to the north of Zagora, got lost for about three hours, tried to find somewhere to fly but too windy. Visited some very isolated villages.

Ended up back on a sealed road miles from where we thought we were, at about 8pm. Took another minor piste but paid more attention to the direction this time and ended up at the Todra George at about 11pm.

Slept in the car and drove further up the george in the morning to a small village called Tamtattouchte, it has excellent flying sitees (paraglider heaven) all round and we plan to stay here for the next 3-6 days. It is a very friendly place and should be fun for the end of Ramadan celebrations in 4 days. Have also me a Berber hill person that lives in a cave in the mountais, and plays his flute from the hills. Will be visiting his home at some stage for the first bit of indepth culture reporting.

We went to a local hotel in Tinehir and tried to connect to Compuserve for about 2 hours. In that time we only managed to recieve 5 of 23 messages and couldn't send anything. A lot of the problem was caused by Compuserve UK's unreliable connecting each time it failed was a 1-2 minute call, other times we had bad lines and once or twice something actually happened before we were thrown off. The people at the hotel were most helpful and kind, it was only when we were presented ith the bill that we found out why. US$300 bill, the rate they wre charging us was their international fax rate @ $12 per minute, you can bet we were really ticked at that. It's partly our fault for not asking the rate in advance, but we had previously been refused by so many places that when we found someone that would actually help us we forgot to ask details. Major lesson for the future.

Well, after the e-mail fiasco we returned to Tamtatouche in the Todra George, where we stayed and paraglided for the next week. Discovered that the paramotor is quite underpowered at 2000m altitude and taking off is almost impossible at that height.

Did a lot of driving throughout the High Atlas Mountains, on some very dodgy roads and eventually returned to El Jaidida.

We've now done a lot of work on the truck, tent and trailer, and have things well organised and functional. We butchered the old tent and purpose rebuilt it to fit onto the roof.

We left El Jaidida, visited Casablanca and then on to Rabat to get our Mauritanian visas. In order to get the visas we had to buy a refundable plane ticket @ US$600 each and lost 10% when we turned it in. The Mauritanian visa took ovrnight and so we headed down the coast to camp for the night.

After finding a nice camp site by the beach we decided to go paramotoring, there were a few people on horseback watching us when we were ground handling but we didn't think much of it. We had a perfect 10 minutes preparation and take off (the first time on the trip things have gone so smoothly) Then things took a turn for the worse, A girl who had been watching us earlier and whom we had specifically warned to keep clear in case her mount was startled had circled round onto the beach below the take off path but out of our sight. We had warned her that her horse would be startled, ao it was that she ended up falling (luckilly into soft sand) and the horse bolted directly towards a busy road but was headed off by some other riders.

The girl stormed over to where her horse was being held, paused, held the back of her hand to her forehead and gently collapsed to the ground. Michael went over to see what was happening, and the manager of the riding school came over and made a big stink about the location where we where flying. Michael managed to remain calm throughout a storm of abuse. Michael apologised to the girl, her brother said it was no problem and seemed unconcerned, but the riding centre manager was intent on blood.

I had been unaware of all this action and happilly enjoying a flight along the coast, it was only when I returned to near the take off site that I noticed a large group of people. Naturally this was the only time when Michael didn't have a radio with him so I landed to investigate. Michael soon appeared and explained the situation, by the time the Manager got to speak to me he was substantially calmer. We put the kit away and were escorted over to the riding school where the girl was being given the required sympathy. The local head of police had already arrived, and it was then that we came to understand the full nature of the incident. The girl was the daughter of a 'big wig in the military' as the policeman put it and the riding school was patronised by the royal family. The girl was perfectly fine but being a rich and spoilt, felt obliged to put on a show, and the manager was obliged to blow the issue up due to the important patronage of the school, flipping great luck for us !!

Right now we are painfully aware that after the problems with the border guard at Ceuta we had only requested permission for transit of the paramotor from the Administration d'Air and we were oficially not supposed to use it. Things could be going very badly. The police chief was very calm and unconcerned and when escorting us back the the our car to take paramotor details he openly asked for 300dh (US$30) to 'Make things Tranquil' for us.

Things calmed down for the time being a number of different options occoured to us, the priority in all cases being getting out of Morocco as quietly and as soon as possible.

A slight problem with this was our Carnet de passage was with Neville in London, the original plan being he would bring this to a meeting in Morocco which was now cancelled. We rang Neville from a terrible local phone that cut us off every 30 seconds or less, and explained that we needed it couriered urgently. , Rather that wait around Rabat we had it sent to a hotel in Agadir. We are presently at the hotel stil waiting for it to arrive.

We had promised to bring some Australian Gum and Wattle Trees to our friend at the hotel in Tamtatouche. Australian Natives are being grown all over Morocco, a very encouraging reforestation program, but they strangely haven't made it to our friends village yet. Despite wanting to get south as soon as possible we had to honour our promise and deliver the trees. It also made it possible for us to visit the imperial city of Fes. The ancient medina is immensely interesting, but the whole experience is largely spoilt by the annoying and persistant touts and hustlers.

After a few hours we developed a priceless plan that we will be using for the rest of our travels. Both Michael and I speak a little Hungarian which is one of a few languages that none of the touts speak any of, we simply reply to any advances in Hungarian, mixed with a little Russian, some Croatian, and the odd bit of Cantonese for good luck. Given no way to communicate the touts generally give up and leave us alone.

"Hello... Hello, Medina, Carpets, Guide, etc. etc. etc. ""
"Bosmeg" - said with a perculiar side ways wave of the hand.
"Nemmm!" shaking head violently.
"Nemmm ! - Foss!"
"Nemmm ! " a spit onto the ground will generally curtail any further attempts at nationality guessing.
"Y.o.u.... S.p.e.a.k.... E.n.g.l.i.s.h..."
"Nemmm English... Magyorosag, Bosmeg!!, Kursanim " Waving hand sideways again This enough to get rid of 90% of advances, any specific references, we simply fail to understand.
Look at each other with puzzled expression
"Behr beer kupputs, Bosmeg, Bosmeg" wave goodbye.

It even improves things when we want to talk to people (particularly shopkeepers) as we can selectively decide how much we want to understand, and whether we are interested or not. It's also a very useful way of frustrating the seller in a bargaining situation.

They resort to writing down a price, I point at it, look puzzled confirm it in Arabic, Michael doesn't understand roman numbers, I translate the numbers into Chinese script, then Michael understands it but it's too dear. They can't be bothered going through all that 10 times and give us a close to bottom price on the second or third attempt.

Maybe we've got too much time on our hands, but boy this is fun.

Anyway after Fes we dropped our trees off and made a marathon drive to Agadir on the highway with the worst truck drivers in Morocco. They openly push any small vehicle completely off the road with no regard to the fact that there is a precipitious drop and 8" ruts on the side of the road. The road is only wide enough for one vehicle, when smaller cars pass each puts one wheel into the dirt and they cross OK. We were negotiating all this at night, but don't plan doing so in future, as it is very dangerious. At one point we saw the recent (last night) wreakage of a collision between a car and propane (LPG) tanker, not much left of the car.

In the rest of Morocco the Truck drivers and intercity Taxi's are pretty bad, but (probably due to our size, or our 'don't f%@# with me' bull bar) they give us a bit of respect. The ones on the road to Agadir are pure evil incarnate. or as Michael puts it 'puting them in a truck is like giving a chimp a loaded '45'. They really do play 'chicken' at every opportunity. Not to be beaten so easilly we developed a strategy of pulling clear off the road where possible, then stunning the bad ones with our 600w of halogen spotlights. I wonder how they say 'permanent retina damage' in arabic ?

Another perculiar aspect of Morocan driving is their complete reluctance to use their lights. (evidently it wastes petrol) As the last stages of red glow are dissapearing from the horizon you can still encounter large trucks driving with no lights, usually on coming towards you on your side of the road. If we drive at sunset with our lights on people actually flick us to remind us to switch them off. At daytime people laugh at such a thing so we decided to make it a full time practice.

Another common game is light flicking, no matter which lights you have on Moroccans flick to remind you to dip, although they mostly stay with high beam until warned themselves. A 600w reply usually ends that, but they invariably try to get you back just as you pass, we have the spotlight light switches set on the passanger panel, so the non driver can concentrate fully on light responces.

Anyway after our Road Warrior sessions we made it to Agadir, camped on the beach one night, near some other people with Paramotors and Ultralights whom we have been hearing rumours of all over Morocco.

Attempeted a PM flight just on dusk but after some bad wind on the first attempt at take off we noticed lightning and gave that idea away.

To resolve an important debate, Does anyone know what happens if a paraglider is hit by lightening ? (In the air and on the ground) What happens to planes ?

Anyway that's it for the time being, we're in our hotel, waiting for the courier package to arrive and then heading swiftly down to the Mauritanian border.

Hopefully we wont get stoped at the border and arrested, or you may be next hearing about the conditions in Moroccan jails. I hope their rubber hoses are soft !

This certainly is the Africa I had imagined. Goat and Camel Carcasses hang covered in flys in the markets, Sahara dust penetrates everything and at night our ears ring with the word "Cadeaux" which we have heard 3-4000 times each day.

The courier package from Neville eventually arrived - 5 days late, but only after I rang the Casablanca office and told them what horrible things were going to happen if it didn't arrive the next day, I treatened to drive there and resequece their toenails.

Agadir is basicly a package tourist hell hole with as expected, European prices.

We had originally booked into a relatively expensive hotel that assured us on the phone from Rabat that they had direct dial telephones, when we arrived thay first confirmed that they did, then suddely changed their mind.

I might also add the the assistant manager of this hotel (the manager is never there) is unquestionablethe most unfriendly, unhelpfu, and incompetant women I have ever met. After 3 days of her rubbish, I took great pleasure in assertively but factually arguing with her and finally, scalding her for about 15 minutes in front of a large a number of guests, after she "lost" a Fax sent for us. We changed hotel only to find that the second (more expensive ) hotel's direct dial system wasn't working. The receptionist nearly met an early end when he said "en cha la" once to often to Michael. Anyway after all this telephone hell we changed strategy, it is now apparant that in Morocco, 1) The Telekiosks are no use, 2) Hotels are expensive and unreliable and often don't have sockets or direct dial.

Our next idea was to try a computer shop which immediately proved successful and this will be a tactic that we will use in future. Because they understand the technology they are generally happy for you to use their business phone and just charge a little more than the international rate per minute and time it with a stop watch which works exceptionally well. Their phone line was also substantially clearer than any of the public line we had encountered.

I don't expect to have such problems in the rest of Africa, (eg. Mauritania) as the phone kiosks are more primitive and it is simplier to just "wire in" to their system, which is impossible in Morocco.

During our stay we also fitted the CB into the vehicle, it is entirely hidden and can only be viewed/accessed from inside the glove box. In most countries in Africa (including Morocco and especilly Mauritania) it is technically not legal to bring a CB or the micro handhelds we use but they are essential for flying communication, so we're taking the risk. We're using 430mhz rather than the more common 130mhz, hoping that we wont find any one else on that frequency.

Our hope is as follows;
1) They wont notice it, and we won't tell them, working god so far.
2) If they do notice, it looks like a car radio and, the we have the wind sock fitted to the antenna, hope they leave it there.
3) If they realise it or the handhed are essentially a CB we explain the difference between 430 and 130 mhz (and that it is an aviation requirement)
4) Last resort, we explain that we have permission from their embassy. In advance we always ask the embassy in the previous country for permission and show them the handheld, and so far it's allways been no problem, generally they don't care and the small handhelds look harmless [This might cause a lengthy delay while we sort it out, and we probably will have toremove the radio, when they decide to really look into the details so we hope it doesn't come this far.]

Anyway, Friday morning our package arrived, we washed one wing in the bath of the "nasty woman" hotel that morning as well, made a huge mess of the room in the process. The cleaning ladies just let themselves into the room unannounced during the process and were completely unconcerned by all the mess, and even mopped up the biggest puddles, they were mostly fascinated by what it was we were doing with a wet parachute in our room.

We were glad to leave Agadir behind us but the road south isn't the most interesting in the world [to say the least] Compared to it the nullabor is highly scenic. Only the odd herd of camels and a rare sand dune break up the rocky endless plains.

Two long hot days of driving later we were in Dahkla with a full day to spare before the next convoy to the border on Tuesday. Of course Monday was a national holiday and we couldn't get anything usefule done other than check in with the police and some shopping. We also met a very bored soldier that had been stuck here for 15 years.

We used the time to do some work on the Landcruiser and a couple of little problems appeared. We noticed a broken front suspension piece (not important), and rear shock absorber (more serious but not disabling) due to the holiday we couldn't get a new one and we didn't want to wait four days for the next border convoy, so we went ahead taking things gently. The convoy to the border covered the same uninspiring territory as before with the odd sand drift across the road. Camped at the border that night with no facilities we discovered a crack begining near the rear tow mounting, this was the first time we had the trailer fully loaded with water and fuel on such bad roads, the trailer mount was twisting downwards, tipping the trailer weight forward and stressing it further, as well as tipping the vehicle backwards, and reducing our traction.

The next day we were escorted through the minefield, with a lot of very bad sandy patches. Because the vehicle was all off balance we got stuck quite regularly, forcing us to take the sandy patches even faster. We were travelling through the hottest part of the day in a 40-50 knot sand storm, overall a very unpleasant experience. At one point there was the burnt wreakage of a car who had taken a short cut around a sandy patch and hit a mine, it had been driven by the friend of a Frenchman in our convoy. Only half of the chassis of the car was still recognisable the rest lay scattered around, an unexploded mine nearby was being continually coverered and uncovered by the sand shifting in the strong winds. The whole convoy only managed 60 kms in 10 hours that day.

We were to discover later that in all that rough treatment, we broke 7/9ths and 4/9ths of the leaves in our rear springs (very luckly the one with no shocker didn't break entirely) That night we camped at the other side of the border, in the morning we tried to re-balance the trailer, and just when we had it unloaded the convoy had to move out unexpectadly (I think they planned it). We repacked just in time to tag on to the end of the convoy (this isn't somewhere to be left behind - landmines everywhere) When we started the truck we had a new noise that I did not immediately identify, with no time to fully investigate, and nothing visibly wrong and now obvious mechanical difficulty we headed off anyway, a few minutes later the noise went away but when we stopped in town and tried to re-start the engine, the penny finally dropped. The sand had siezed the starter motor on and it had burnt out. After a tow start we took the vehicle to customs, and headed back to the campsite to begin repairs. If this wasn't all enough about 10 metres from the campsite gate the fanshaft broke (for no apparant reason, and completely unrelated to everything else), and the fan fell down (to much amusement of some local onlookers)

By the end of that day we had removed all damaged parts, fixed and replaced the starter motor and were held up due to a public holiday. In the two days since we have; Removed and upgraded the suspension on the trailer. Completely modified the trailer hitch so it sits exactly level. Mounted the trailer spare underneath the trailer for better weight balance. Removed all no essential weight from the trailer, (with angle grinder) Rustproofed and repainted the roof of the vehicle. Replaced the bearing in the water pump, after hand machining a part from a different vehicle. Built a new piece for the front suspension. Searched heaven and earth for a piece of metal strong to replcace the one on the rear that was twisted. [ It is being bolted on and welded and reinforced with a-fram supports today - don't want this happening again do we.) Removed rear springs and shocker and are still trying to get them replaced.

Unfortunately we are in one of the most expensive places in the world for car parts, and we have 500km of very difficult rough, sandy track before the next major city (the reason why parts are so expensive) so we can't risk not fixing the vehicle entirely.

Stop Press++++++ Things have just got really exciting now, it's also very hard to write this because tear gas is being blown through the campsite. I now realise how nasty tear gas is, first symptom , you sneeze a lot, then breathing gets a bit gaspy and dificult, like breathing sulphur, but when it hits your eyes, jesus bloody christ , it f%*@ing hurts!!! And we're a good few hundred metres away most times I can ony imagine what it's like to be in the stuff !! Oh I guess I should explain what's happening. We'll come to think of it I don't really know what's happening exactly, whatever it is we're right in the middle of it.

It started as I was writing this mail, just a bit of noise out front at first, nothing unusual. Our campsite is directly across from the central police station. Then there we're a few sirens, unusual but not alarming. A couple of loud bangs very close were the first hint of something really happening. By the time we smelt the tear gas the first little incident was largely over, don't know exactly what happened. There next was a convoy of police in riot gear going past and some more tear gas being used up the road. Michael was out shopping for some bolts at this time and right near where the gas was set off, he copped a bit of the gas but nothing serious. He quickly headedback to the campsite. The police from the station seem to think it necessary that we remain inside the campground and are using international sign language to that effect. Big clubs and Automatic rifles make us take notice of their signals. It is illegal to photograph or film in Nouadibhou at any time without specific police permission and I don't think this will be the best time to go and ask. We are nowhearing and occasionally watching the proceedings which are occouring all around us in a radius of about 200m, from the rooftop and sometimes outside the front gate, which displeases the police so we don't push it.

They're using tear gas every few minutes somewhere in the vacinity, and it regularly blows through the campsite. No indication of gunfire yet, just a lot of cars honking horns, yelling and roit police running around.

We've been told it's a student protest of some sort but that doesn't completely make sence since I'm sure the is no college in town and there seems to be too many people involved. There appears to be a larger number of younger 15-22yo women involved in the clashes with police but I can't say for sure yet.

Michael just arrived back, with bagetts and butter, I hadn't realised he had left, but evidently he thought it more important to get lunch. He managed to duck into the bakery just before a crowd ran and police charged past, the baker slammed the steel plate door shut, followed by loud banging on the door and he had to wait inside till things settled outside. Michael's comment on returning "I don't care if they can't get their country together, it shouldn't effect my lunch, and I couldn't find any basil for the pasta".

Things appear to be settling for now a policeman/soldier just came to visit the campsite to assure us things were all OK, and explain that it was just "some trouble with children" ( Yea, right! ) and that it is perfectly outside safe for tourists (Except for tear gas, and human stampedes) and the police are only for local people (Not the way we understood their hand gestures) and that the shops are now all open (If you can get past the 5mm steel plate doors that they all have bolted shut) He must be a public relations person and would probably do very well in western politics. A lot of the riot police just went into the HQ opposite the camp, which looks positive

Only a very few of the shops are open, so it'll be hard to get our stuff done today so we may be here for an extra day, or more depending on how things progress. Oh, Michael also reported that he saw our Senegalese metal worker running the other way in a crowd with a "get outa my way" look, so I don't expect to see him again today

Well, while the air is comparitively breathable, I'm off now to see if I can get let into one of the teleboutiques and send this out. Then again I thing I just heard another siren, maybe I'll give it a little longer.

After spending the best part of an hour digging ourselves out of our desert breakdown/camp site we travelled well for about 4-6 hours stopping once to add some more water to the radiator.

We didn't get lost, even though the stupid GPS could never get a signal, drove through all the deep sand with no troubles and our makeshift suspension held together quite nicely. I should add that we really did incorporate some fencing wire and string in minor places when we put the suspension on, in the style of all true bush mechanics.

About 100kms the water leak started getting worse, particularly when the car got hot, and we had a strong tail wind which made sure of that. By that evening the water consumption was becoming a real worry, we had 80 litres of drinking water which should be plenty, but it was going into the radiator at a fast rate, and spraying out again. We stopped regularly and let the car cool down so as to reduce the pressure.

We wanted to find somewhere to stop, remove the water pump and try to do something about it but a terrible sand storm was developing. Eventualy we stopped for the night and used our car and trailer and some tarps to make a wind break, enabling us to make a sandy dinner. The wind howled all night and by morning it had shifted and was picking fresh sand from a local dune, and made our wind break less effective. We packed up as quickley as possible, re-filled the radiator and moved off.

The wind subsided throughout the day to be replaced by a now familiar searing heat. Our leak was worsening rapidly and our water going down very quickly.

At one point our GPS which had been on all day actually worked for a few seconds and we were able to confirm our location. We tried to locate a well marked on the map, on route we went through an area with some basic vegitation and met some camel herders. They indicated the direction of the well but it was too far away from our route, and without a reliable GPS to get us back we couldn't risk it.

It was then noon the air was hot and surprisingly still, we found the largest thorn tree within site, offering at least a bit of shade and had a lunch of tinned pineapple before setting to work on the truck.

After draining the water system and saving the precious water we attempted a makeshift seal for the radiator with silicone sealant, string and fencing wire. Not perfect but it would have to be an improovement.

Late in the afternoon our camel headers walked over to visit and we talked in a mixture of sign language and rough arabic. Michael made then grenadine cordial, but he put too much cordial and not enough water and one of them spat it straight out. We managed to have a discussion about the wind, but we had different purposes and different measures as we later discovered.

We thought we were asking them about the wind and we concluded that there would be a consistant breeze this evening possibly suitable for a bit of paragliding.

They were warning us of an impending sandstorm, that would strike with no warning in a few minutes and rock the vehicle all night like a toy, removing a large part of the paintwork from the car.

When it arrived I was ground handling the paraglider and we were extremely lucky to be able to get it back under control put away. Had I been in the air, I would have been blown directly out into a sand sea, with no chance of Michael following in the car.

Spent the night sleeping in the car and headed off the next day with our string and wire water pump leaking slghtly less at first. We were down to about 20 litres of combined drinking water/ and radiator[spray on the ground water] and still estimated about 40km to the coast. We now realised that we would need to use sea water in the radiator, and were eagerly awaiting any sign of the ocean. We stopped regularly so as to keep the engine as cool as possible.

The sand storm was easing by midday, but still a constant annoyance, the skyline was a constant haze and the sun less fierce than normal. When we were down to about 5 litres we noticed a bluer patch of sky to our west, which could only mean the ocean was near. We parked the car and walked through the dunes to collect the water. No more wasting precious drinking water.

Throughout the next few days were were continually told that by people 'Seawater's no good you know'. They seemed not to comprehend that we were in a desert and there was no alternative, and we wouldn't be doing it if we had a choice. It became quite annoying.

Not much further on along the coast we came to the first nasty little village. The coastal villages see too many travellers on this route and the people are entirely mecenary. Bottled Water and Food cost 2-3 times their normal price, they wont tell you where to find water and they are particularly abrupt, often rude. Children continually hassle for gifts.

Here we met a French and Senegalese guy in a Ford van who had been stuck here for 3 days with engine trouble, they had run out of food and were down to their last bit of water and the locals wouldn't only not help then but when they needed to puch start the car at one point. One local who they refused to pay to help, actually walked around and told others not to help them.

It was quite a coincidence that this car had the same engine as one that I had owned 10 years ago, they had broken the timing belt, replaced it and now the timing was wrong, it could start but would not run. After a short inspection I remembered how to set the timing, and in a few minutes it was running better than new.

There was also a Landcruiser Taxi broken down with 8 Mauritanians in it, they had blocked injectors and the owner didn't believe that they might be fixed with Redex soloution, which I offered - Arrogant fool.

Between us and the Frenchman we agreed to take the passangers and guide to the next village leaving the stupid driver and his vehicle in this horrid little village.

All the way so far we had travelled without a guide, we never became lost or stuck in sand and allways had a good idea where we were. While in Nouadibhou we were approached at least 5 times every day by guides.
'Bonjour, Sa Va'
'Je Suis un Guide'
'Je Suis un Guide'
They allways warned us that we would be doomed without a guide and were thoroughly disgusted when we refused their extremely overpriced services.

Once or twice in the desert we were passed by Forigners with guides, when their guides discovered we had no guide ourselves their clients were hurried on, so as they could offer no assistance, and we were told that we wouldn't have such a problem with a guide. We consider a guide to be extra weight, more water loss and not only useless but throughly annoying as well. We now had a 'free' guide travalling with us and our expectations were about to be prooved more than right.

By ourselves we regularly consulted the map, took careful note of distance and compass bearings and watched for landmarks. No Problem. [I might add that no thanks to Magellen and their bloody useless GPS, which would have made navigatio quite easy. If we came to a difficult patch we walked to a hill or dune and checked out the route on foot if necessary.

As soon as we had a guide things went really badly, they first lead us out onto a dead end peninsular. Then directed us into a sandy patch where the Ford Van got stuck. Then came the real hassle, they confidently directed us to a maze of dunes, and told us it was essential to go really fast to make it over one particular section. On the way up the dune the guide was telling me to go faster, sensing something not right I backed off near the crest, Then slammed on the brakes with the guide yelling 'No !! Faster you'll be stuck'. (in French) Michael jumped out and waved the other vehicle to a halt, it was also being commanded to go faster. 2 metres in front of the Vehicle was a near vertical drop some 6-7 metres deep, and beyond it a sea of impassable dunes as far as the eye coud see. Had we not been killed in the impact we would have been stuck in the desert with the vehicle ruined.

I clearly instructed the guide what would happen if he spoke again this evening, he valued his testicles and largely shut up for the rest of the evening. Michael and I set out on foot to find a way out of this near fatal mess, with darkness soon approaching, and the wind becoming stronger and sandier.

We backed off the dune and followed what the winds had left of our tracks, back to a known location and headed off by compass bearing to where we though the main track should be. Not expecting to be in such a mess we were only carrying 20 lites of sea water which was goig fast with all tis difficult driving in the sand.

We travelled by compass and the stars until well after dark, luckilly the moon was almost full and we had some idea of the terrain aroung. We once headed into a dead end and no wanting to waste more water I thought it better to find the track on foot. Michael fixed the strobe to our pole, and I walked alone out into the moonlight in search of a way out.

Not long had passed before I encountered the first evidence of vehicle tracks, and followed it till it converged with others, indicating the piste was near. With the blowing sand rapidly removing my own tracks I made my way back to the vehicles, at the same time planning our route through the dunes.

An hour later when I returned, another Mauritanian vehicle arrived, having noticed te strobe and was offering to guide us out. Knowning the way perfectly well now myself I tried to politely refuse but they explained that they were from the park and knew the area very well so we agreed to follow them.

Only 500m later they headed directly into a big sand hole and got themselves stuck, seeing it coming, I was stuck on the periphery, but it still took a major effort to get out. I was now disoriented from the 'good' track I had planned and had developed an absolute contempt for Muaritanian directions.

By ourselves we were perfectly in control, with Mauritanian 'help' we were now stuck, lost and had just used the last drop of sea water. Or friends in the Ford Van headed off with the Mauritainian Vehicle and taking our two passengers with them. Were were now alone in the desert, with only a few litres of drinking water they had given us, but somehow things seemed a lot better than before.

We would drive for 100m and then stop for 10 minutes to cool the engine completely. It was now in the early hours of the morning and very cold with the fierce wid still blowing so the engine would cool rapidly when faced into the wind.

After sometime another vehicle passed near, and was attracted over to our lights, they gave us 12 litres of water and with that we made it first to the piste and then to within walking distance of the ocean.

By now the water pump was producing a constant stream of water, we slowly followed the coastline into the village of Nouamghar, met up with our friends in the Ford and fell asleep totally exhausted.

Next day we recovered from the ordeal. The shops in town have the same highly inflated prices for tourists, and they allways add up the total wrongly (higher of course)
Bottle of water - $3
Biscuits - $2.40
2 Soft Drinks - $2 each
Total = $11.80

When the same person tried it for the third time on the same day I was very close to clubbing him. I had no patience for these horrible people, and by the end of the day their pathetic requests for gifts were responded with violent gestures that left no doubt as to how I felt towards them.

We met with the director of the Banc d'Arguin park that we had travelled through. The birldlife is scarce at this time of year, the winds to strong and unpredictable. And the trained dolphins that the villagers use to catch fish no longer come close to the shore (they probably got sick of the high prices too)

Next day we bought water from a desalinisation plant and headed out of town, drivnig along the beach all the way to Nouachott. Our sea water consumption was up to about 2 litres per km, but at least we had a solid supply. Near to Nouachott we started using desalinated water to clean out the sea water. Salt crystals were forming all over the engine, the long spikes on the fan were particularly pretty, but it's all washed off now.

We stopped to buy fish from fishermen but they too inflated their prices to 10 times the real value. One justified it "You're tourists and I need Money" Michael responded "Now we're leaving, You're still Stupid and you've got no Money"

The drive along the beach was particularly smooth and easy. Getting off the beach at Nouachott was not so simple, we got continually conflicting directions. Were lead through a crowded baech market and finally had an hours digging and sand ladder work to get on to the road. We were helped for a short time by some Mauritanians which we thought was the first kind gesture we encountered in this country until we discovered thet they needed us to tow them out.

Found a hotel and had our first warm shower in a long time.

Purchased a shiny new water pump yesterday and today we head North to Chinguetti and another round of Sahara adventures.

The riot were back the next day but less tear gas was used, there was a little bit of a disturbance the following day and police in riot gear cruising around for a few days following.

Meanwhile we were having fun in different ways. Got the truck all back together with the exception of the leaf springs and the water pump.

Neither of these parts could be purchased in Nouadibhou 2nd hand. Toyota could only supply the water pump and then it cost US$380 and would take 'some' days to get there (ie. 'Monkeys will fly out of my arse before that happens')

There were no leaf springs for an HJ/FJ 60 Landcruiser anywhere in Mauritania and they would need to come from Japan. Our other problem was that our Cruiser has a suspension lift kit on it and the springs arn't the same size anyway (although the originals would fit.)

We managed to find a new bearing for the water pump that was similar in some dimensions and a mechanic that could get it machined to fit.

Incompetent Profiteering Idiot #1.
Of course he didn't machine it accurately enough and cracked the body AND the pump putting it together. Some welding later we had a slightly leaky water pump fitted but at least we had somewhere to put the fan. Interestingly I had to do a lot of the work myself, because he either didn't know how, didn't have the tools, or was trying to break something else.

Next we found a mechanic who could make us some new springs by a combination of adding some new leaves and welding a few (a very doubtful practice but we had little choice and they much be better than broken ones.

Incompetent Profiteering Idiot #2
After a hard test around town it seemed to be holding together, even the welded springs. Problems with this guy was that he had a total of 12 tools which included a big andgle grinder and a welder (the welder doubled as a drill) And I had to lend him a lot of my tools including a high lift jack.

We took turns overseeing the work and guarding the truck even still after the test drive our jack had dissapeared from the garage and recovering it required police intervention (the police also had to 'assist his memory' as to where he left it - in a locked storage yard about 50m from the garage) We insisted on having him locked up in jail, and would have requested a further beating had we known at the time how many suspension parts he had either stripped, broken or nuts rounded. (This we were to discover later while broken down in the desert).

After 8 days in Nouadibhou (read -end of earth) we were glad to be leaving even with 400kms of desert in frount of us in a highly dodgy vehicle. Customs managed to screw us over badly on the way out of town, and despite all good intentions of leaving early it was night before we got into the desert. About 20 km past the customs post we encountered some french people with vehicles to sell in Senegal stuck in deep sand. After offering help and being refused we headed past them and with our now well balanced load and better suspension we had no trouble driving past. That was until the (better of the two) rear leaf springs broke clean in half, leaving the car undrvable and untowable in the middle of a 100m patch of deep sand.

After trying to see the light side, and a few choice words we set up camp for the night where we sat. At about 4am we became painfully aware of how close we where to the railway lines when a 6km long iron ore train went past, about half an hour late that night as we discovered during the next 4 nights.

The next day Michael walked in to the customs post early in the morning while I dissasembled the rear suspension leaving the truck balance precariously on spare tyres dug into the sand, with the rear axle as an independant item. With a lot of time to spare I managed to build an impressive fireplace paved wit railway pegs for better heat refection (I really did have a lot of spare time) I also played with our GPS (Magellen 3000 - soon to be returned to Magellen with very nasty letter as it is the most useless pece of shit I have ever owned) and for the first time ever it gave a reading (after eight hours searching for satelites) Michael tried to contct Neville for emergency support getting new springs but with no luck. On the way back to camp, Micheal had some interesting discussions with the military about

  • 1) There were some minefields around and that no-one really knew where they were, hence we were a 'security risk' - this is an accepted travel route
  • 2) Getting permission for me to paramotor into town, refused because of the minefield - try to figure why flying over a minefiled isn't safe unyet driving or walking through is generally accepted.
  • 3) That we should get the car towed into town - Impossible but try to expliain it to an arrogant cretin. He then paid $30 to get driven out to the campsite, and had a 30minute continual arguement with the driver about directions, was driven right past, and then dropped off 1 km away at night (luckilly I had our strobe mounted on our fishing rod on the roof for him to navigate with.

Next day was Sunday, so we decided to wait until Monday to go in and call Neville again, A railways guy drove past and offered us a lift in the next day.

The climate was extreme to say the least, Mornings are damp and chilly with dew soaking everything. By 10 it's dry and warm but on bad days the wind is picking up, inserting sand in every available crevise, stinging your legs, and getting in your eyes. From 12 till 3 or 4 we try to sleep in the car to avoid the searing heat outside, and violent sandy winds. In the evening a stronger wind picks up but with less sand, and things radidly cool. All our food has the same crunchy consistancy, rather like Taldra Mushrooms. The smoke from our small campfire blows wildly in all directions, as the evening cools we switch between shivering in the darkness and being blinded by the harsh desert wood fumes. By the forth day we are walking many kms in the sands in search of a few scraps of firewood, our petrol stove recently broken. Late at night is frighteningly cold, the 3:30 train makes it impossible not to notice.

The next day I waited paitently for our promised lift into town which never came, causing me to miss the best time to travel, and we put the trip off until the following day, walking at noon would not be wise in this climate.

In town I discover that Neville was not clear on what to do and we where no closer to getting our parts, I had one of the good springs with me and after a long search we found some land rover springs that might just work. They cost US$300 which is quite reasonable in this town, the owner (incompetent profiteering mechanic #3) is a friend of the mechanich that fixed (or rather re-broke our water pump) I also arranged a lift the next day back to the camp. Michael spent the night rearranging sand. The mechanic had agreed to drive me out there in his land rover for $50 and I waited until 2 the next day for him to fix it (alarm bells should have been ringing)

At the customs post I discovered that he was as good a mechanic as his friend and the clucth no longer worked. I also discovered what crappy, uncomfortable, bad handling vehicles land rovers are compared to the land cruiser, I hope never to have to drive in one again.

The vehicle got worse and worse and when stuck in sand about 4km from the camp the transmission gave up all together. The mechanic prepared to walk back to town to get his 'old' vehicle to get us out, and realising that I wasn't going to wait however many days for him to get back, he asked to be paid. I don't speak enough French to abuse him well enough so I spent 10 minutes telling him in a Mixture of English French and Sign Lnguage what a bloody idiot he was. He asked for payment again, I told him his life was in danger the understood that piece of universal sign language and left me in the desert with two leaf springs, 40lt of water and a weeks food supplies 4km from camp, in searing heat.

I began to carry the stuff in lots, 100m along the track at a time. After a week of nothing going right something finally did and a bizare looking line testing vehicle came along the railway and carried me and my huge load right to camp.

We worked repairing the vehicle until 4am that night. Things didn't go particularly smoothly and we had to pull out the generator and angle grinder to make parts fit. The Fenecs and Jackals that had taken up residence near our camp I'm sure found this quite amusing. Finally, early the next day we headed off with a better chance of making it to Nouachott - or so we thought !

David and Michael

Afterword, by Seamus Waldron.

Michael and David continued south surviving many more incidents and tribulations. Finally they managed to get to the Gambia were they rented a house and tried to make some money - they failed. By now money was a real issue, Michael was basically funding the trip, David's sponsors hadn't come through with the money and the truck was constantly breaking.

Finally, David left to help a German guy drive his truck back to Europe and was last heard of in Hungary. Michael got an infected finger and had to return to the West for emergency treatment. It was close, he nearly lost the finger.

So, a life building experience, but still the end of the adventure,

apj home > destinations > tall tales > Cross country in West Africa.

This is the personal website of Seamus Waldron.
This website is a part of the APJ domain. Other sites include:
A Profound Journey
Travel and Technology
Intel OSX
Mac OS X on Intel (aka MacIntel)
I hate my cube
Humorous interlude. My one man protest against working in a cubicle
Boston PDA user group
Premier PDA user group. Information about PDAs and wireless technology. We meet at MIT in Cambridge, MA, USA
I love marmite
I hate marmite
My homage to Marmite. You either love it, or you hate it
Walker Mouldings Ltd
If you want replica oak beams for your house or office, have a look here
Management Issues
Huge online magazine about Management issues in the workplace. Created, maintained and powered by the SedaSoft SiteEngine
SedaSoft Ltd
The SedaSoft SiteEngine is an incredibly powerfull Content Management System (CMS) and website engine.
Website created for Lambeth Borough Council, using the SedaSoft SiteEngine, to make publicly available their image archives. (Getty Images, eat your heart out ;-)
Copyright © 1995 - 2005 Seamus Waldron. All rights reserved.