No one is rushed or stressed in this city, but they did seem to get very excited about the French world cup win. Whilst walking around the town with my host Liz, we were lucky enough to witness the pure spectacle and hilarity of crazy French people hanging out of the sunroof of their car, waving their French flags and proudly yelling something in French, presumably about how awesome the French are. The sound of constant beeping horns could be heard for many hours after the victory and excited locals would also feel the need to shout “FRANCE!” as they passed us hanging out of car windows.
We settled ourselves into a hotel lobby for shelter from the heat and world cup shenanigans, with the added bonus of fast wifi and some refreshing fruit drinks. It appeared that our server, Abdoul had taken a liking to us and after a bit of flirting, informed us that our bill had been taken care of.
When Liz and I finally made it home in the evening, we were greeted by Anna and David, the couple that I had met at the border a couple of days earlier! We all headed out to a poolside feast at Liz’s friend’s place. An excited dog came out to say hello when we arrived, followed by Sidi, our host for the night. Sidi is first and foremost a Mauritanian, with a great love for his country, but he has also spent an extensive amount of time in other countries, giving him a very unique and interesting worldview.
Sidi also happens to be the first person I’ve met on my travels who’s also enjoying the Keto lifestyle. That was great for me because I was able to try some local delicacies without the sugar! As the dog made itself comfortable under the table, where it could easily get cuddles and scratches from everyone, we chatted about everything from politics and corruption to drainage. Anna and Sidi have both worked on projects involving drainage, so that’s how that topic came up, just in case you were wondering! A great time was had by all and I can’t think of a better way to end a cruisy but crazy day in a mellow city!
Yellow Fever Vaccine Adventure
As I’d been previously unsuccessful in obtaining the Yellow Fever Vaccine, required for entry into some countries I intended to visit, it was time to try to get it here in Mauritania. First, we went to a pharmacy that looked very clean and professional and said they could administer the vaccine, but couldn’t provide the international vaccination certificate. They informed us that the only place that could issue the certificate was at the national public vaccination centre.
The centre was nowhere near as clean and sanitary as the pharmacy and the first person we asked for directions sent us the wrong way. Then we finally found someone who knew where we had to go and he took us to a nurse, who took us to a fly-infested room at the back of the clinic, where many people were either just hanging out, or waiting, not sure which one.
While we were waiting, we noticed a very old poster on the wall issued by the World Health Organisation, that hilariously depicted animals with ‘La Rage’ or rabies. It warned, in a most dramatic and amusing fashion of the dangers of La Rage and how to deal with it.
After waiting for a while, a grumpy old doctor wearing a ‘China Medical Team’ lab coat, who had spent the last 10 minutes walking in and out of the room making and taking phone calls on his mobile while wearing surgical gloves, approached us. He asked what I was doing there and where I’d come from. When told, he started yelling about the place in which I live being a rich country and that I was wasting their resources by getting the vaccine there. Alrightly then.
Most people in the room, including us, were wondering what was going on, so we went into the injection room, where the nurse was, to ask him about it and he told us not worry, that the guy was “just like that” and he wasn’t even a doctor. Well, that was a relief. Shortly after I got the jab and with a hastily written doctors note, I was off to another room to get the certificate.
Of course, there was more waiting involved to get the certificate and the cashier didn’t have any change, so instead of €1, I paid €1.2! Still better than the $100+ charged in other countries with only limited supplies!
As with everything in Africa, this process had been longer than expected, so feeling super accomplished that we’d achieved such an epic feat, we pigged out on roadside BBQ meat.
On the walk back home, we encountered a traffic jam, due to a guy that had just decided to do some car maintenance in the middle of an intersection, because.. Mauritania.
Later in the day, I decided to go down to the beach area to check out the fishing boats that the locals take out to the sea. Unfortunately, this required a walk through a very dirty, smelly fish market area.
The boats all looked very old and very well used, but also very colourful. I watched a huge group of men trying to launch one of them into the choppy sea for a few minutes and it seemed like it was much harder than you’d think. I guess they eventually managed to get on their way, but I didn’t hang around to find out.
Getting to the Rosso Border
It turns out that Anna and David were also heading to Senegal at the same time as me, so we all decided to go together and make it an early start, so we could get to our destinations at reasonable times. The process of getting a taxi to the bus station was relatively easy because we had a local there to help us. Unfortunately, we’d just missed the 7 am van because it was already full by the time we got there at 06:50.
We got our tickets for the next van, due to leave at 08:00, then sat under a canvas shelter and waited. The 7 am bus didn’t leave until about 07:15, so we resigned ourselves to the fact that our van probably wouldn’t depart on time. That made it all the more surprising when the driver ushered us into the van and started the journey about 20 minutes before the scheduled time. I’m sure that’s not something that happens in Africa much!
Before I’d gotten to Mauritania, I was aware of the Fiche (personal information sheet) requirement for police checkpoints along the road. I’d only used one of these on my journey of over 1000km through the rest of the country. I had to part with 4 of them in the 200 odd kilometres to the Rosso border. At least having them available made passing through the checkpoints a breeze.
Upon entering the Rosso border area, people crowded around the van that we were in before it had even come to a complete stop. A wonderful Senegalese man in the van with us had already warned us that people would be in our faces there. He told us to ignore everyone and stick with him. Just as well we did because the place was very confusing. We were still about 500m from the border, but there were absolutely no signs to indicate where the immigration point was.
Our Senegalese friend was also a bit confused and had to enlist the services of a local to help us get to the right place. First, there was a building where we had to show our passports and then get some tickets. Normally you’re required to pay for these tickets, but apparently we had the right person with us to get us through without paying.
Behind the first building was an open area that looked more like a market than an immigration area. We had to walk across this area to get to the window where our exit from Mauritania would be processed. As we were standing at the window waiting for our passports to stamped, sellers were constantly approaching us to try to get us to buy their stuff. Some of them weren’t taking no for an answer and needed to be shooed away by the local helping us.
It was hard to know exactly what was happening on the other side of the window where we submitted our passports for inspection, but whatever was going on in there was taking a very long time! It would have taken at least 30 minutes for our documents, all 3 of them, to be checked. It seemed almost like an eternity.
As Mauritania and Senegal are separated by the Senegal River, we had 2 choices for getting across. There was a free ferry, which was very slowly making its way back from the other side, or a small wooden canoe that would leave straight away and have us on the other side in a short few minutes, for around €2. We opted for the canoe.
In a few words – Dust, tea and friendly locals
Languages – French, Arabic and local languages
Currency – Mauritanian Ouguiya (MRU)
WiFi Availability – 📶📶📶📶
WiFi is available if you know where to look, but it can be quite slow.
Transport – 🚗🚗🚗🚗
🚘 Taxis are available, but the zone system can be confusing without the help of a local.
🚐 Vans are also available for intercity routes, but they do not seem to be made with passenger comfort in mind.
🚇 If you’re adventurous, you could travel hundreds of kilometres for free on the iron ore train that departs daily from Nouadhibou to Choum (empty), or Choum to Nouadhibou (full).
Roads – 🛣🛣🛣🛣
The main roads between cities are generally sealed and in decent condition. Within cities, there’s a mix of sealed and sandy roads, but most can be easily driven on without a 4WD.
Scenery – 🏜🏜🏜🏜🌳
Sand, sand and more sand! There’s no variance in the desert scenery at all until near the Rosso border in the south, where the odd tree or 2 starts to pop up.
Prices – 💰
Mauritania is great on a budget! I don’t recall paying more than 5MRU for anything I bought, unless it was from the cafe with the good wifi! You can buy around a kilogram of meat from a roadside BBQ for 4MRU (€1), or a bottle of water from a boutique (small store) for 1MRU (€0.25).
Checkpoints – 🛑🛑🛑🛑🛑
There were many checkpoints along intercity roads, but not all of them make you stop. To speed things up, it’s good to have several Fiche, or personal information sheets available to hand to the officers in lieu of your passport.
Border efficiency – 🛃🛃
Entering from the north was a complete disaster. There’s no signage to indicate where to go and you will spend a lot of time waiting, without knowing what you’re actually waiting for. The Rosso border in the south was much more efficient, but still not very well signposted.
Corruption level – While people I met in the country, spoke of corruption within the Mauritanian bureaucracy, no corruption aimed at travellers was evident.
Overall – 👍👍👍👍👍