Morocco is no more, we have left behind tagines, olives, easy travelling, friendly peoples, public transport and entered Mauritania a land of not much other than desert, camels, dodgy arrogant police at border controls, heat, mosquitios, no beer, no transport, no ATMs but beautiful beaches, sand dunes and Tuaregs.

Armed with a bag of food, water and ready for an 8 hour bus journey; we jumped on the bus from Agadir to Layouune, the proposed capital of Western Sahara.  It seems the Moroccans like to create mayhem even if there is no need as there was almost a scrum to get onto the bus.  Jon pushed his way on like a true Africian and got us our seats!!  The journey started well with the stars lighting up the sky.  The first time really we had seen lots of stars.  A few hours into it; we dozed on and off only to be woken for pit stops in the arse of nowhere but at least a welcome toilet break for me as the ol’ kidneys don’t last as long as they used too!! Also awoken by the numerous police check points along the way, with soliders getting on and heading straight for us, asking for passports and the usual questions of where are you going and what’s your profession.  Finally we arrived in Layouune at 11am rather than the expected or perhaps unexpected 8am.  We found the hotel we had earmarked, right beside the bus station and hit the bed for a few hours.  Layouune has not much to offer except alot of soliders as there was a ceasefire agreed in 1991 which is monitored by the UN, between Western Sahara and Morocco.  Beautiful Western Saharawi women in colourful clothes and thats about it.  We did find a little oasis with flamingos which was great but couldnt explore it as dogs barking from the bushes turned us off, didnt really want a dog bite of rabies. 

So that was Layouune, spent two nights there and then headed on the second of our mammoth journeys to Dhakla; the very end of Western Sahara.  Set off the next morning for the bus; meant to leave at 7am but was only an hour late.  My stomach was acting up (again), Immodium and I have become best friends.  The journey was long, with more and more check points and with each one I stuggled more and more to speak French to them as my stomach got worse and worse.  Our little stop along the way at a garage was strange, early morning fog everywhere but the funniest thing was there was a truck stopped and all we could see were camel heads sticking out.  Finally arrived into Dhakla at 6pm, found a grand hotel and I hopped into bed for the night.  When I say hotel don’t imagine the Hilton or anything, just two beds and the all important toilet in the room.  Some rooms have shared bathrooms but have learnt its always best to have one very nearby!!  The room cost about 10euros a night.  Spent three nights there, getting better and met Aziz who became our ‘fixer’.  As there is no public transport between Morocco and Mauritania we needed to find a driver who would bring us.  Aziz sorted this out, for Sidi a Taureg from Mauritania to do so in his Mercedes. We found out, just our luck that there had been a Coup in Mauritania that day but that it was bloodless and peaceful.  Neither liked the idea of staying there too long so decided to get in and out of the country as quick as possible even if that meant missing our stay in the National Park Banc D’Arguin, famous for birds.  Although not too much into birds myself I kinda liked the idea of chillin out in a hut in the park with no-one else around, but not to be. 

Thursday morning we set out for Nouadhibou and at first it seemed to not go so well.  Sidi didnt arrive at 9am as agreed but we caught up with him at the checkpoint out of town.  The drivers all wait there in the hope of picking up other passengers.  We looked at the car we’d agreed to travel in, only 2 people in the back as agreed and then us 2 so we paid our money and put our bags in the boot.  But then some large Mauritanian women appeared and sat in the front, leaving Jon and I the option of both us in the back or sitting the 2 of us up front beside the driver, which was never going to work.  We refused to get in the car with 5 passengers so they said wait no problem, we will wait for 2 more passengers.  We waited 3 hours with no-one else showing up until eventually time was running out as the border closes at 6pm.  They knew they had us and were happy to sit it out until we broke which we did.  We offered them some dollars (alot) to go with just us 2, either that or travel the 5 of us or wait until the next day to see if others showed up.  As it’s the off season for tourists there wasn’t much chance of that. So we set off at noon, Sidi delighted with a wad of dollars, us happy having the car all to ourselves for the 6 hour journey.  There is nothing between Dhakla and Nouadhibou except a landscape that looks like the moon, it feels if you keep driving you’ll drive off the edge of the earth.  You can’t even stop for a pee because there are landmines everywhere.  One garage appeared before the border which we stopped at and then hit the border which sapped every last bit of energy from us.  Waiting in the afternoon sun for our passports; whilst they searhed the car, even taking off tyres, taking up carpets.  Not sure what they hoped to find but they did find wads of cash that Sidi had stashed!!!!  We made it through ok and onto the no mans land between both borders, untarred and again full of landmines.  Hence why we hired someone local who knew the route extremly well.  At the Mauritanian border we were asked for un cadeau from the arrogant guard but played dumb and continued, welcome to Mauritania!!!!  Nouadhibou appeared out of the desert, back streets covered in sand.  Treated ourselves to a nice hotel with AC and collapsed into bed, mentally and physically wrecked. 

Jean

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