The Sahara was the next leg of my journey from Nouakchott and it was beautiful in parts. It had been mostly rock and scrub, but now there were sand dunes rolling down to the sea especially around Parc National Du Ban D’Arguin. Unfortunately, I was only able to take a few photos, when the driver took a comfort break between the dunes. The bus windows were dirty and the bus moved at a quick pace on this single-track road. Photography was not a priority.
The checkpoints keep on coming but they were not as frequent as earlier and we were soon to lose the light. One final stop at a mosque for prayers and we arrived at a very dark Nouadhibou just before midnight and there were no taxis in sight. To say I felt uneasy was an understatement and I would have continued pushing on North but the border closed at 9.00pm and consequently, there was no onward transport.
A local picking up his family from the bus took pity on me and gave me a lift to a hotel. a few kilometres away. The hotel was a wooden building and judging by stickers posted on the wall, looked like it had been a favourite with overland trucks when they had plied the trans-Sahara route back in the day. I had a restless night’s sleep with the wind howling and blowing sand and debris against the walls of my room. It did not help that I read a passage from my guide book just before I fell asleep, “there are no buses between Nouadhibou and Dakhla (Western Sahara) shared taxis will make the route if they have sufficient passengers every few days”. I did not want to get stuck here and I tossed and turned all night, wondering how much it would cost me to pay for all of the empty seats in a taxi. Whatever tomorrow brings I’m moving on!
I was told at reception that the shared taxis depart from a garage close to the bus station and the first leaves around 8.00am. I was up at 6.00am and was keen to go, the receptionist said he would take me early, as the station was close to the mosque and he was due to pray there shortly. When we arrived at the mosque he advised me to keep myself hidden in the car “pour securite” he informed me, a good start to my day then!
Soon after I arrived at the taxi garage. There were a few drivers milling around and I was put in what was to be the first car to leave that day if they had sufficient passengers. The price was fair for the 8-hour journey to Dakhla and the entire cab I calculated would have cost me $200, I was prepared to pay that too given a worst-case scenario.
I needn’t have worried, the car soon filled up including one of the African guys who came on my last bus journey, here from Nouakchott. He seemed pleased to see me, and he was heading to Rabat to see his sister. He asked if I could lend him some cash just for the border crossing to prove to the authorities he had sufficient funds to complete his trip and he would give it to me back when the border formalities were complete. He had paid most of his cash away in bribes at the various checkpoints. I actually believe that him, and a number of others on my journey thus far north, are economic migrants trying to head for Europe, the checkpoint guards know this too and target them for cadeaux.(gifts ).Anyway, I duly obliged with a €50 note and shortly we were to arrive at the border much to my utter relief.
I was singled out at the customs area just after we had had our passports stamped out of Mauritania. The customs officer could not speak English and kept asking for a “petit cadeau pour moi”. “Sorry mate, I don’t understand I don’t speak Italiano” I kept saying until he just gave up, much to the amusement of the other passengers who were listening in.
I wondered, does the whole world exist on graft, gifts and fines?