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
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
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
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
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
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
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
"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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
We met with the director of the Banc d'Arguin park that we had travelled
The birldlife is scarce at this time of year, the winds to strong and
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
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
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
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
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
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
- 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
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
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
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,