Southern Senegal

After clearing Gambia immigration, we drove for probably 5 minutes before reaching the Southern Senegal immigration area. There, the officer asked if I had a visa. All I could think was, oh no, here we go again with the bribe game that happened when I first entered northern Senegal. I decided I could stop it before it started by showing him the Senegalese stamps in my passport. That worked and after writing down my details in his record book, he stamped me out and I was gone.
Kez = 3, African Border Corruption = 0

K in Motion Travel Blog. Southern Senegal. Swamp and Birds

The Greener Part of Senegal

I could instantly see that the landscape of Southern Senegal was much less dry and a lot greener than the north. Also, probably because of the proximity to an English speaking country, there seemed to be a lot more people that could speak at least some basic English. This included the guys working for the shared taxi company. They let me pay for my seat in Gambian Dalasis (GMD250, €4.40) then exchanged my remaining Dalasis back to West African Francs (CFA), for a pretty good rate.

Blog. Southern Senegal. Roadside Swamp Area

As I had time to kill waiting for the seats in the van to fill up, I walked around the station and decided to buy a couple of hard-boiled eggs. I’d just realised I was feeling a little peckish. I also wanted to get rid of my 100CFA (€0.15) change. They came with a little packet of mixed spices because plain eggs are just boring!

K in Motion Travel Blog. Cheap Eggs in Ziguincor, Southern Senegal
Cheap eggs in Southern Senegal

Next Stop in Southern Senegal – Ziguinchor

Once we were on the road to Ziguinchor, I started talking to a guy from Guniea-Bissau, named Amadou. He and the driver had earlier helped get my seat back. You see, seats are assigned when you buy a ticket for a taxi in Senegal and the driver gets strangely irritated if you don’t take the assigned seat. I was assigned a window seat, but a Senegalese guy had taken it by mistake. I’m not completely sure why these seat assignments matter so much though. Another African quirk, I guess.

Blog. Southern Senegal. Luxury Transport From Ziguinchor
The chariot awaits..

It was a relatively short and uneventful drive to Ziguinchor in Southern Senegal. We only had a few small stops for the driver to put water in the car’s radiator. You could say it broke up the monotony. When we arrived at the station in Ziguinchor, the driver took me to the ‘man of the station’. This man’s name was Mustafa and he was the man to see for all your needs. He spoke English too, which was a nice bonus!

Zipping Around Ziguinchor

Mustafa took me on his bike to the Guinea-Bissau Embassy to check if I had the right visa. We had both forgotten that it was a Saturday though. I blame my travel brain, (it’s totally a thing!). So, as you’ve probably guessed, the embassy was closed. Mustafa didn’t seem worried about this at all and nonchalantly pulled out his phone to call the number on the gate.

The embassy staff said they would be there in two minutes. I figured we would be waiting at least ten minutes because it was Africa. Imagine my surprise when a white 4WD pulled up less than 2 minutes later and opened the embassy gate. They checked my visa and advised that it was not valid for overland entry. The whole process of getting the visa took less than ten minutes and only cost €20. Once it was done, the staff closed the embassy and drove back off to enjoy the rest of their weekend. On a side note, I was refunded by the Guniea-Bissau government a week later when they realised that the first visa they’d issued me hadn’t been used, so win-win!

The Roads in Southern Senegal

As I mentioned in my previous post about Senegal the roads varied in quality from sealed to dirt. The roads in Southern Senegal also varied, but in a slightly different way. For the most part, roads were sealed and a little more well maintained than their counterparts in Northern Senegal.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Southern Senegal. Sealed Road

As we got closer to Guinea-Bissau, the road turned from sealed to paved. Paved like a backyard. It was a rather interesting sensation driving on the paved road after being on the sealed road for so long. it was definitely a lot noisier!

K in Motion Travel Blog. Southern Senegal. Paved Road

On To Guinea-Bissau!

Once we got back to the station, Mustafa helped me find a black market currency exchange guy. I needed to get some more CFA to pay for transport to Bissau. He then insisted that I eat some food as I had a long trip ahead. Most of the food on offer at the stalls at the station was pretty unappetising. You really wouldn’t expect more from a transport station in Africa though!

Thankfully, the car from Ziguinchor went straight to Guinea-Bissau. There was no need to change at the border. Every other border I’d crossed in Africa beforehand had required a change of cars. It’s a lot less hassle when you can just get back into the same car! The crossing was rather uneventful. For the first time in a while, no one tried to bribe me or give me their phone number! I spent less than 5 minutes on each side. The actual border was several kilometres from the Senegal immigration post. The driver kindly pointed out the actual frontier at a junction between the 2 immigration areas, then welcomed me to Guinea-Bissau.

??Northern and Southern Senegal Summary??

In a few words – Hot women and helpful men
Language – French and local languages
Currency – West African Franc (CFA)
WiFi availability – ???
Decent WiFi is available, but it can take a bit of searching to find.
Transport – ??
? All European cars from the 60s and 70s moved to Senegal to start new lives as very squeezy shared taxis. You will wonder if these cars are roadworthy, or if they’ll even stay together for the whole trip. Somehow they do.
? Many vans are available for intercity routes starting in the capital, Dakar. They should seat around 15 people, but don’t be surprised if the driver just keeps picking up fares until the number of people in the van is double that.
Roads – ? ? ?
Intercity roads can be good in some places and terrible in other places, which means that travel times can be a lot longer than expected.
Most suburban roads seemed to be composed of dirt, with the exception of major arterial roads, which were in very good condition.
Scenery – ?????
The northern part of Senegal is quite dusty, but the further south you go, the tree to dust ratio increases drastically. By the time you get close to Guinea-Bissau, you’re surrounded by lush greenery and marshes.
Prices – ?
Senegal is great on a budget! 100 CFA (€0.15) can get you 2 hard boiled eggs. 500 CFA (€0.7) can get you just about any snack imaginable. 2000 CFA (€3) can get you a meal in a small eatery.
Checkpoints – ?
I only saw one checkpoint in Senegal, near the Rosso (Mauritanian) Border.
Border efficiency – ??
If it wasn’t for the immigration officer spending an hour trying to get a bribe out of me, Senegal would’ve scored much better in this category. The exits into Gambia and Guinea-Bissau were very efficient and the officers were very nice.
Corruption level – ⚠⚠
Officers will try to bribe you on entry, but will eventually give up and let you through.
Overall – ?????

—————————————————————————————————————————————-

If you liked this post, please let your friends know and Pin It for later :o)

Gambia

K In Motion Travel Blog. Near Soma, Gambia

Entering Gambia From Northern Senegal

Just a short walk from the Senegal immigration area and I found myself at what looked like it could be Gambia immigration. I wasn’t really sure. I approached and one of the policemen standing outside ushered me inside. Not before inquiring about my well being. He took me to a room at the back of the building. There a man in a white shirt asked for my passport. He then said, “Oh, I’m looking for a wife from your country! I’m Amadou”. What else could I do but laugh awkwardly?

Amadou wrote down my passport details in his record book. Then he gave me his phone number and told me to go to another room to get stamped. Now that’s where the fun started. The man in this room asked the standard questions. Then he pulled out a piece of paper to check if my country was on the list of countries requiring a visa. Of course, it wasn’t, I had checked beforehand! He then stated, “You used to need a visa, but no more. Now you have to pay for an entry stamp.” Hmm, seemed like another one of those not so subtle bribe request situations. I informed him that I knew what he was saying was wrong. He just nodded, stamped my passport and let me go. I was now in Gambia, West Africa’s smallest country!
Kez = 2, African Border Corruption = 0

Crossing the Gambia River from Barra to Banjul

Despite the implied marriage proposal and the sneaky bribe request, this was the most efficient border crossing in Africa yet. I was in the immigration ‘shack’, (I’m not sure it qualifies as a building), for less than 10 minutes. From there, I walked to the taxi station and got a seat in a shared taxi to Barra. It cost 100 Dalasis, or around €2. From there I got the Ferry to the Gambian capital Banjul for 45 Dalasis (€0.80).

K In Motion Travel Blog. On the Way to Barra, Gambia

As far as ferries go, this one wasn’t large. It had with room for around 30 cars, squeezed in Africa style. Then there was one open-air passenger deck. The ferry chugged along rather slowly, so there was only feel a slight breeze. That provided time to relax and enjoy the view over the Gambia River. It was actually quite stunning at sunset. You can see Banjul on the other side of the river for most of the 30 minute trip.

K In Motion Travel Blog. Sunset on the Way to Barra, Gambia

The bubble of serenity that had been surrounding me was instantly popped upon stepping into the Banjul port. Within seconds I was engulfed by a sea of taxi drivers. they were probably the most in-your-face of any in Africa so far. Luckily my host was waiting for me, but I was still getting taxi offers almost all the way to his friend’s car. One thing about this port is that there is no lighting past the ferry arrival area. Everyone was using the lights from their phones to navigate through the muddy streets.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Banjul, Gambia

Getting to Brikama

Now in a more comfortable car on the way to Brikama in Southern Gambia, I was happily chatting to my host. Until we pulled into a service station. He informed me that I would have to pay 300 Dalasis (€6) for his friend’s fuel. Putting aside the fact a taxi would’ve charged less, my host hadn’t mentioned that picking me up from the port would be at my expense. Fuel in Gambia is very cheap. The driver was clearly just using me as a way to pay for his weekly fuel. I was not at all happy with paying it. But I was too tired to argue and begrudgingly handed over the money.

When we arrived at my host’s place in Brikama, in the southern part of Gambia, the power was out due to the rains we had encountered on the way down. All the restaurants on the main road were still open though. So I ate some cheap and delicious specially made food in the dark. My host kept saying that the power would be back on soon. It was still out by the time I fell asleep.

K In Motion Travel Blog. Brikama, Gambia

Heading to the Mountains?

My host had offered to accompany me to the mountains in the east of Gambia, so I could go for a hike. He said he had a friend with a car that could take us. I agreed to this only after checking that this friend wasn’t expecting me to pay for his weekly fuel. It turns out this friend had something to do and wouldn’t be available until the afternoon. That would be too late to make it a day trip.

It was time for plan B, go to the local bus station to get a minibus heading east. We waited quite a while for the bus to fill up with people. It was very squishy and uncomfortable. I didn’t even have a complete seat to myself and I was sitting right above the wheel. That meant that my short legs couldn’t even reach the floor. Let’s just say that my back hated me after that ride! Once it was full, we waited some more while the workers loaded a fridge, TV and some plastic barrels onto the roof. Maybe someone was moving house?

K In Motion Travel Blog. Crowded Bus From Brikama to Soma, Gambia
Yet another squeezy ride
Police Stops Along the Way

Along the road, there were a few police stops. The first was in a town about 6km away, where the road to the Southern Senegal border intersected with the road we were on. When the officer, Mr Grumpypants, entered the bus I gave him my ID as instructed. He then started complaining that I should show him my passport. When I pointed out that he asked for ID and I had given him a valid government ID he grumpily accepted it. We then had to wait while he took some locals that had no ID into the station. They needed to get papers to get them through the checkpoints ahead.

In stark contrast, the officer at the last stop, Mr Happypants, was excited when anyone produced their documents. He individually thanked everyone as they showed their ID by saying, “Thank you very much for showing me your ID”. He also said every thank you with a big smile and nod.

The road was smooth most of the way and the scenery on the drive was quite mesmerising. Occasionally, kids playing on the side of the road would point and wave as the bus drove past. Even a girl who had been using the local water pump to lift her off the ground, stopped and excitedly jumped up and down while waving.

K In Motion Travel Blog. Walking Near Soma, Gambia

Exploring Soma

Once in Soma, my host took me to the place where he grew up and we met his friend Lamin, who was to be our guide up the mountain. While there, I saw some interesting lizards with yellow heads and blue/grey bodies. They did this cute little head bobbing thing whenever they stopped running. I decided at that moment that I wanted to take one home. Do you think they’d let me?

K In Motion Travel Blog. My New Lizard Friend near Soma, Gambia

Lamin took us to property nearby, where we met another Lamin and got some water for the trek. Now we were ready to go, but we had one more stop to make at another property. There Lamin asked a man, who was building a wall, permission to enter the mountain area. He explained to me that the man was the caretaker of the area and bad things to do with spirits would happen if we didn’t get his permission. Fair enough.

K In Motion Travel Blog. Heading to the Hill near Soma, Gambia

Making Mountains out of Molehills

With all formalities now taken care of, I was eager to hit the Gambian mountains. But where were they? I couldn’t see any! After inquiring as to the location of the mountains, it became clear that my local friends were not actually aware of the difference between hills and mountains. We ended up walking up 2 small hills that only rose about 70m above the surrounding area. Not the big workout and panoramic view I was hoping for, but still lovely all the same.

K In Motion Travel Blog. Panoramic View From The Hill Near Soma, Gambia

On the way back to Brikama in the west of Gambia, we got the public bus, which turned out to be much cheaper, quicker and most importantly, more comfortable than the sardine tin we’d been subjected to on the way there. I guess the fact that the public bus was waved through every police stop and only made limited stops to let passengers on and off shaved a lot of time off the trip.

Crossing the Border from Gambia to Southern Senegal

Getting to the border from Brikama was relatively cheap (around 150 Dalasis or €2.50) and easy, as far as these things go in Africa. Of course, there was time waiting for the seats in the taxi to fill up. One good thing about this taxi was that it would be taking me all the way to a bus station in Senegal. That meant there would be no car changeover or haggling a new price at the border. Sweet!

At the Gambian immigration post, the officers seemed more interested in chatting with me than checking my passport. They were pretty relaxed. They had already started planning my return trip for me. I got the feeling that very few non-Africans pass through that border. I had to cut the chat short because my taxi was waiting for me, so we could move on to Senegal. Before I left, one of the immigration officers gave me his phone number. Maybe it’s a Gambia thing to check someone’s passport then give them your phone number?

??Gambia Summary??

In a few words – Waving and smiling kids
Language – English and local languages
Currency – Gambian Dalasi (GMD)
WiFi availability – ??
When the power is on, WiFi is available at restaurants, but I can’t comment on the speed as the power was out almost every night I was there.
Transport – ???
? The old, squeezy shared taxis of Senegal seemed to have been replaced in Gambia by slightly younger, more sensibly loaded taxis.
? Vans are available, but as in many other African countries, won’t leave until they are full. They are quite old and not too comfortable.
? By far the cheapest and most comfortable option is the public buses. They also tend to be quicker than the for-hire vans as they leave whether they are full or not.
Roads – ? ? ?
The intercity roads were sealed and well maintained. Suburban roads tended to be made of dirt and some of them didn’t fare well after rains.
Scenery – ?????
Gambia is much more tropical and green than the countries to its north.
Prices – ?
Gambia is awesome on a budget. Snack size servings of tropical fruits like coconut and mango were readily available from roadside sellers for 5 Dalasi (€0.80). A meal from a restaurant could be found for around 200 (€3.50)
Checkpoints – ?
Aside from a couple of ID checks on the way to Soma, I only encountered one checkpoint, 5km out of Brikama, near the border area.
Border efficiency – ????
Although the crossing into Gambia only took about 10 minutes, it required speaking to 3 different officers in 3 different rooms.
Leaving Gambia was also relatively quick. The hardest part was trying to stop the officers chatting to me after they’d stamped me out.
Corruption level – ⚠
Gambians will try to get money out of you, but won’t press the issue. When entering Gambia, a cheeky officer tried to tell me and some Europeans that we needed to pay for an entry stamp to get money out of us. We refused and entered with no problems.
Overall – ???

The adventure continues in Southern Senegal

————————————————————————————————————————————————–

If you’ve enjoyed the adventure in Gambia, let your friends know and Pin It for later :o)

Super Social Senegal

I had made the short journey across the Senegal River with a Swedish couple, Anna and David, that I had met in Mauritania. We had taken a cheap canoe from Mauritania to Senegal. I was officially transitioning from northern to western Africa and was about to find out how super social Senegal really was.

Welcome to Senegal! Give Me Money

A friendly immigration officer at the dock ushered us to the passport window. Inside was a plump old man who was more interested in chatting to unseen people than checking passports. When the man took my passport, he tried to tell me that I needed a visa. Of course, I’d checked beforehand that this was not the case. I’d prepared a screenshot in case something like this happened. Mr Plump ignored it.

He then produced a French document showing my country on a list that gets a free visa on arrival. You’d think that seeing as he is the immigration guy, he’d be the one giving it to me, right?. He wanted to argue instead that it wasn’t his job. As I don’t speak French, this was all being relayed through a nice Senegalese man, Mumoudou. I’d just met him in the van from Mauritania. After several minutes, Mr Plump shooed me to the side.

Playing the Game

This was obviously to give me time to think about paying the bribe he was indirectly asking for. I was one step ahead. I’d read that this border was notorious for these kinds of tricks. They think foreigners are willing to pay extra or ‘bribe’ the officer to make the trouble go away. Not this foreigner. So I waited.

Mr Plump eventually motioned for me to come back to the window. He stamped my passport and told me I’d need a visa to enter Senegal next time. (Click here to see why that’s not true). Let’s just forget about the fact that letting someone who requires a visa into the country without a visa makes absolutely no sense at all.
Kez = 1; African border corruption = 0

Finding Transport in Super Social Senegal

K in Motion Travel Blog. Super Social Senegal. Transport Station

The transport station near the border was buzzing with craziness. Mumoudou said to keep close to him and not talk to anyone. That was easier said than done. People gathered around us, trying to get us to buy toothpaste or get into their car. Mumoudou found the car to St Louis and organised tickets for it. We put our bags in the car and relaxed a bit because our transport was sorted. Mumoudou went off to buy some water and as soon as he left, the driver took our bags out of the car. He told us we had to pay extra for them. We of course protested but as soon as Mumoudou came back and we told him the situation, our bags were back in the car. We did not pay any extra.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Super Social Senegal. Shared Taxi at the Transport

On his little walk, Mumoudou had found a car going straight to Dakar, so I decided to swap to that one. It was the same price as the car to Saint Louis, which was much closer to the border. At that point, I bid farewell to Anna and David. They will visit the same West African countries as me, just at a slower pace. You can see a chronicle of their adventures here.

K in Motion Travel Blog, Anna, David and I near Senegal Border
Anna, David and I
Kids of Super Social Senegal

While waiting for the seats in the car to fill up, little kids were constantly approaching me. They would put their hand out for money, but I found when I put my hand out, they were kind of confused and walked away. Once the word got around that I was doing that, other kids started just coming up and doing it for fun, then walked off laughing. They eventually stopped approaching me altogether, which was the aim!

Colourful Clothing

One thing I instantly noticed about Senegal is that women’s hair and clothes were very bright and colourful. After travelling for weeks through conservative Muslim countries, it was nice to see a splash of colour. I think their clothes would be considered stereotypical traditional African clothes. Senegalese women are also not afraid to show off their bodies and a bit of cleavage. I’m a fan!

On the Road Again in Super Social Senegal

Once our car was ready to go, the little boy that had been sitting in it had disappeared. His mother was laying down on her husband’s lap like she was sick. It turns out that her son didn’t have papers to show the police just outside the station. He had sneakily walked through the back of the station to a point down the road out of sight of the police post. Mum was pretending to be sick so that if asked, she could say she paid for 2 seats due to illness. Clever.

Whilst making our way to Senegal’s capital Dakar, a lovely Mauritanian man in the car started talking to me. When he left the car a little before Dakar, he instructed the driver to call my host on arrival at the station in Dakar. How lovely of him! The trip was mostly pleasant, if not a tad longer than I had hoped. There was certainly a lot to look at on the way, like the wild goats roaming around. They seem to be the stray dogs of Africa. Some people even walk them on leads as if they were dogs.

K in Motion Travel Blog, Shared Taxi near Senegal Border
A rather squeezy car ride
Prayer Stop

After a few hours on the road, we stopped at a town called Gueoul. Most of the others in the car went off to pray. I was glad to have a bit of respite from sitting in an uncomfortable car. I’d noticed a lot of speed bumps on the road as we approached towns. Even though we were travelling on a highway. I thing we lost an hour on speed bumps over the whole journey! By the time I reached Dakar, it was dark. That meant I’d spent the whole day getting from Nouakchott in Mauritania to Dakar in Senegal. All I wanted to do was eat and rest, so I met My host and got some food. my host lived in the ‘ghetto’ area called Grand Medine.

Dakar – The Capital of Super Social Senegal

Dakar is a bit of an assault on the senses. It’s next level chaotic. Cars going in any direction they please. Walking and stationary vendors trying to sell you their wares. Dust everywhere. With random puddles of mud, probably due to the small bit of rain we hit on the way in. Everyone was very eager to chat, even if they didn’t speak English. I had a lot of people start talking to me as I was walking. Many of them gave me their phone numbers in case I needed their help while I was in Senegal.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Super Social Senegal. The Ghetto

One of my missions while in Dakar was to my Guinean visa from the Guinean Embassy. It was my best visa experience yet. After looking at all the stamps in my passport and asking me few questions, the officer decided that I could have the visa. It was placed in my passport within 10 minutes. He then started giving me a lesson about the geography of Guinea and was so happy about getting to practice his English that he took me to lunch. Of course, he gave me his phone number and told me to call him if I needed anything while in Guinea.

Walking Around Dakar

K in Motion Travel Blog. Super Social Senegal. Roadside Street Art

Dakar is definitely colourful. There are many things that make it this way. The street art. The different coloured buildings. The many coloured items being sold on the roadside. But especially the bright clothes that people wear.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Super Social Senegal. Street Art

While walking around Dakar could be a little overwhelming, the friendliness is amazing. I could never walk far without someone offering to help me. People would often just start walking with me and chatting. There were plenty of invites to roadside tents for tea or food. One guy tried to help me, but wasn’t sure where the place I wanted to go was. He went to a random shop for assistance. The shop owner was only too happy to oblige.

K in Motion Travel Blog, Sex Sells? Dakar, Senegal
Sex sells?

I’d aimed to explore the city by myself, but I was never alone for long enough to do it. Even when eating a meal, it wouldn’t be long before a local joined me. While sometimes you just want some alone time, it’s nice to be in a place where everyone has time for other people. Not only that, but they are also willing to offer their help so freely.

Getting to the Border

A kind person I’d met along the way had secured a taxi to Gare Routiere des Baux Maraichers (inter-city bus station) for me. He’d even asked the taxi driver to show me where to go when we got to the bus station. Upon arrival, a guy from the bus to ‘Gambia’ tried to get me to run. He wanted to leave urgently. I was surprised to find that the bus was only about half full. Normally in Africa, buses won’t leave the station until they’re full.

The driver had decided to pick up passengers on the way. This was a great theory to get going faster. The problem with that approach was that it required driving around side streets and constantly stopping. It took us 2 hours just to get the airport area. An area that was only about 40 kilometres from the bus station. Even though I’d gotten to the station in the morning, I still hadn’t left the city by the start of the afternoon.

Life’s a Beach

K in Motion Travel Blog. Super Social Senegal. Kids Playing at the Beach

Along the way, the road followed the coast for a little while. I wouldn’t say the beach was anything special. It did look like people were living there in small wooden shacks. In some places, you could see families just hanging out underneath washing that they’d hung up on a makeshift wire placed between their shack and the nearest power pole.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Super Social Senegal. Hanging at the Beach

There were a lot of stops on the way, as many people in the bus were going to towns between Dakar and the border. Every stop would inevitably start with local sellers almost climbing over each other in an effort to get people on the bus to buy their stuff. Then some poor passenger would have to push their way past the vendors to exit the bus.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Buy My Stuff! Dakar, Senegal.
Buy my stuff!

With all of these stops for people to alight, the bus had become considerably more comfortable and quiet the closer we got to the border. That combined with the increasingly greener scenes outside the window were making the ride much more pleasurable.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Super Social Senegal. Getting Greener away from Dakar

Bus Swap

When we got to a town called Kaolack, about 100km from the border, the driver inexplicably made us leave his nice roomy bus for another overcrowded bus. I’m guessing the bus we were switched to was should’ve only held 20 people. I counted 36 at one stage!

K in Motion Travel Blog. How Many People Were Squeezed in This Van From Dakar to the Border in Senegal?
Can you count how many people have been squeezed in?

The 270km trip from Dakar had taken around 8 hours, so by the time we got to the border, it was after 6pm. I was a bit worried as I’d been told that this border closed at 6. Luckily, it was looking very open. I joined the long line, thinking that I’d be waiting for quite a while. The wait was shortened considerably when the officer processing entries into Senegal, ushered us into his lane. Even though he didn’t speak any English, he was very friendly. He even asked where to place the stamp. Overall, exiting through this border was quite easy. Plus it had the best signage of any African border so far!

Stay tuned for the next installment as the African adventure move into Gambia

————————————————————————————————————————————————-

If you’ve been enthralled by this adventure in super social Senegal, please let your pals know and Pin It for later :o)

Things To Know About Mauritania

You may or may not heard of Mauritania, but if you have, I’m sure you’ve heard some conflicting and often false information. These 9 things to know about Mauritania will help you disseminate the truth about this beautiful and safe Northern Africa desert country.

3 Important things to Know About Mauritania

Travel Warnings

Many governments have current travel warnings for Mauritania. Most strongly advise against travelling there. These travel warnings are absolute over-reactions to things that actually happened in Mali, not Mauritania, 20 or more years ago. I travelled to remote areas of the country, where according to the travel warnings, the possibility of something dangerous happening increases. No matter where I was, I never felt anything but safe.

Wherever you are in country areas, locals are always willing to take you under their wing. they’ll always make sure you’re safe and comfortable. There are definitely countries in Western Africa that are much less safe, but do not have current travel warnings. If you have any reservations or doubts, it’s always prudent to get in touch with locals. They can give you details on the actual situation in the area.

Currency

Back in late 2017, the government decided to issue a new version of Mauritanian Ouguiya (MRU). The new currency is worth 10 times more than the old currency, so there are now roughly 400MRU to 1 Euro, as opposed to the previous 4000MRU to 1 Euro. It can be confusing at times, as everyone still quotes prices in the old currency. You will only get the occasional person quoting the new currency. The best way to save yourself having a heart attack when you’re told your roadside BBQ for 3 is 4000 (10 euro), is to ask, “Old or new?”. Once you know it’s old, take away a 0 and breathe a sigh of relief.

Fiche

There are numerous police checks when travelling overland in Mauritania. You are technically expected to supply a Fiche at each one. For those of you that don’t know what a Fiche is, it’s a piece of paper with all of your personal details, including passport and visa information. It should also include a copy of your passport information page. The police will accept this in lieu of checking your passport. Having several copies will save you and your fellow travellers a lot of time at these checkpoints.

Even though I had about 20 ready to go, I personally only had to hand over 5 of these information sheets on my travels through the country. Four of those were distributed on my last day when heading towards the Senegal border. I was lucky to be waved through many of the checkpoints without having any documents sighted. I do however know other people who’ve travelled through the country and have used 10 or more.

2 Cultural Things to Know About Mauritania

Tea
Mauritanians run on tea. It’s tradition and it’s a chance to be social. If you talk to someone in the street for more than 2 minutes, expect to be invited for tea. It’s a very strong blend of tea with mint and they tend to add a lot of sugar. If you don’t like or can’t eat sugar, they’re also happy to make it without for you. It’s probably the best tea I’ve tasted in Africa, so definitely worth a try!

Men’s Thoughts On Women

While I don’t like to over generalise, there were some definite trends on display when it came to male attitudes towards females. The majority of people you’d see on the streets were males. Husbands will generally not let their wives go outside by themselves. This means that many males think that any women outside are fair game and can be asked totally inappropriate questions. Where it gets even trickier, is that sometimes even just acknowledging these men are talking to you can be seen as an invitation for more. These are terrible attitudes and I’m by no means implying that all men in Mauritania share these thoughts, but women do need to be careful of those that do.

That been said, people were generally friendly and helpful. I had some really nice men that started talking to me just to find out how I was liking the country. They seemed genuinely interested in talking to non-locals and finding out about foreign cultures.

Entering and Exiting – 2 Things to Know About Mauritania

Entering From The North

This border is confusing with absolutely no signage to tell you where to go. You will also spend extraordinary amounts of time waiting. Waiting in lines, waiting for visas, waiting for people to input your details into the computer system using the ‘two-finger typing’ method, waiting for transport, waiting for other people in your van to get visas. You will be asked the same questions in several different rooms. You’ll show your passport to several different people. Some of them will be super serious and others will try to joke around with you. Just remember that you will be there for at least 2 hours, but expect that it will be closer to 4. It may be an all day mission, so try to get there early and bring snacks!

Exiting in the South

Getting to the bus station is a complicated undertaking, it usually requires taking 2 separate taxis, but luckily we had a local helping us, who managed to get us into a taxi going all the way to bus station. The bus will only take you within a kilometre of the border, so you have to walk or get a taxi the rest of the way. To make things even more fun, there will be people yelling at you from every direction before you even get out of the bus.

This is another complicated border with little to no signage that may require the help of a local to navigate. Despite the complications, it’s a relatively quick passage and the reward for making it through the chaos is a nice relaxing journey across the Senegal River in a wooden canoe.

2 Logistical Things to Know About Mauritania

Dust

Mauritania is a desert country, which pretty much means it’s one big dust bowl with about 3 trees. While I may be exaggerating about the trees, I’m not exaggerating about the dust. It’s everywhere and will end up in places you thought were impossible to reach. You will still be finding dust in your clothes and bags weeks later. You will also eat it at some point. It’s all part of the experience.

Sand, anyone?

Getting Around

Navigating Mauritanian cities is very difficult. Especially because a lot of the roads are not sealed and even the sealed roads end up partially covered in sand. They all start to look the same after a while. Even my Mauritanian friend got lost twice whilst trying to find my host’s place. The best plan of action is to befriend some locals to help you get around. Luckily, the locals are always willing to help, even if it takes a bit of trial and error to get there. One caveat there is that you may need stop for some tea first.

———————————————————————————————————————————————-

If you’ve found this post helpful, please share it with your friends and click the picture to Pin It for later :o)

The Mauritanian Capital, Nouakchott and Beyond

K in Motion Travel Blog, Nouakchott, Mauritania

After an amazing Mauritanian Adventure I was ready to experience the Mauritanian capital Nouakchott and beyond.

The Mauritanian Capital Nouakchott

No one was rushed or stressed in Nouakchott. They were very excited about the French world cup win though. Whilst walking around the town with my host Liz, we were lucky enough to witness the pure spectacle and hilarity of crazy French expats in the city hanging out of the sunroof of their car. There was some proud flag waving and yelling in French. The sound of constant beeping horns could be heard for many hours after the victory. 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 an added bonus of fast wifi and some refreshing fruit drinks. It appeared that our server, Abdoul had taken a liking to us. After a bit of flirting he informed us that our bill had been taken care of. How unexpected!

Being Social

When Liz and I finally made it home in the evening, we were greeted by Anna and David. They are the couple that I had met at the Mauritanian 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. He has also spent an extensive amount of time living in other countries. This gives 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! The dog made itself comfortable under the table, where it could easily get cuddles and scratches from everyone. Meanwhile. 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. I can’t think of a better way to end a cruisy but crazy day in a mellow city!

Yellow Fever Vaccine Adventure in the Mauritanian capital Nouakchott

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 in the Mauritanian capital Nouakchott. First, we went to a pharmacy. It looked very clean and professional. They 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 the clinic at the national public vaccination centre.

The centre was nowhere near as clean and sanitary as the pharmacy. The first person we asked for directions sent us the wrong way. We finally found someone who knew where we needed to go. He took us to a nurse, who took us to a fly-infested room at the back of the clinic where many people were just hanging out. Or waiting, It was hard to tell which one.

While we were waiting, we noticed a very old poster on the wall issued by the World Health Organisation. It 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.

K in Motion Travel Blog, Nouakchott, Mauritania. Yellow Fever Vaccine
Did you know that death is the fatal end?
Grumpy Doctor Who Was Not a Doctor

After waiting for a while, a grumpy old doctor wearing a ‘China Medical Team’ lab coat approached us. He 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. He asked what I was doing there and where I’d come from. When his questions were answered, he started yelling about me living in a ‘rich country’ wasting their resources by getting the vaccine there. Alrightly then.

Most people in the room, including us, were wondering what was going on. We went into the injection room, where the nurse was, to ask him about it. 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 doctor’s note, I was off to another room to get the certificate.

K in Motion Travel Blog, Nouakchott, Mauritania. Yellow Fever Vaccine
Doctor’s note

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!

K in Motion Travel Blog, Nouakchott, Mauritania. Yellow Fever Vaccine
Yellow Fever Vaccine Mission completed!

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.

K in Motion Travel Blog, Nouakchott, Mauritania
Meeeeeeeat!
They do Things Differently in the Mauritanian Capital Nouakchott

On the walk back home, we encountered a traffic jam. It had been caused by a guy that had just decided to do some car maintenance in the middle of an intersection. For real. That’s how they roll in Mauritania.

K in Motion Travel Blog, Nouakchott, Mauritania
Middle of the road car repair

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.

K in Motion Travel Blog, Nouakchott, Mauritania
Fish Market

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.

K in Motion Travel Blog, Nouakchott, Mauritania
Boaty Beach

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. We 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.

Chaos at the Rosso Border

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.

K in Motion Travel Blog, Rosso, Mauritania
Rosso

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.

K in Motion Travel Blog, Rosso, Mauritania
Border tickets

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.

K in Motion Travel Blog, Rosso, Mauritania
Border area or market?
Waiting..

Who knew 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.

K in Motion Travel Blog, Rosso, Mauritania
Canoes on the Senegal River

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.

??Mauritania Summary??

Travels in Mauritania

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 – ????
Main intercity roads between are 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! You could see a tree or two in the south.
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. No signage and a ridiculous amount of waiting. 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 bureaucracy, no corruption aimed at travellers was evident.
Overall – ?????

——————————————————————————————————————————————————-

If this post about the Mauritanian capital Nouakchott and beyond has made you laugh, please Pin It for later :o)

Mauritanian Adventure – Coast to Capital on the Iron Train

Crossing into Mauritania

Once passing, relatively painlessly, through Moroccan immigration, I was ushered to a van where my Mauritanian Adventure began. I mistakenly thought that meant we would be moving soon. I waited over an hour for the seats in the van to fill up but then another van showed up. All the Moroccans and Mauritanians moved to that van, leaving just myself and a couple from Sweden, Anna and David, in the first van.

Our van then left straight away. We had a 10 minute drive through a sandy car graveyard with no defined road. I had heard that there were unexploded mines in this area, not that you’d be able to see them before you set one off! I honestly don’t know how the driver navigated his way through, but I guess he’s done it many times before.

Maritanian Adventure at the Border

We then stopped in front of a building and the driver told us to follow him in. It seemed that men were having lunch in a doorless room. We were told to wait outside that room, which made us think that it was where we would get our visas. Soon after, a group of guys carrying a door made their way to the room and fixed the door in place, while we waited some more.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Mauritanian Adventure - Coast to Capital on the Iron Train. Border Buddies
Border buddies

We’d been waiting for about 10 mins when another man came along and opened the door to the room next door. That was the actual visa room. We went inside to wait some more. After a while, we were asked some questions, photographed and fingerprinted in that room. Then after what seemed like a very long time, we were finally given back our passports with visas inside. So surely that’s it? It’s all good and we can be on our way? Haha! No.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Mauritanian Adveture - Coast to Capital on the Iron Train. Visa Room
Visa Room

Dude, Where’s Our Van?

Once we got back outside, the van that should have been waiting for us wasn’t. The other van, that had taken the Moroccans and Mauritanians earlier, was there. We were ushered into that van instead. More waiting ensued as the Moroccans got their visas. They had joined the long line outside the visa room just as we had left.

When the Moroccans were done, we drove another 5 minutes to another building, where we needed to get our entry stamps. The first guy that saw us, looked at our passports and called someone else, who took us to another room. In that room, we were asked pretty much the same questions as before.

More Rooms?

We were then taken back to the first room, where the guy inputted our details into their computer system. He also decided to teach us a bit of Arabic in the process. The word for Sweden kind of sounds like sweet. As a side note, he entered my year of birth as 2077 accidentally, so I’m a traveller from the future, folks.

We then had to go into a third room where a more jovial guy checked our passports and fingerprinted us again. He then tried to show us his knowledge of our countries by telling us something stereotypically famous about them. Thankfully, that was actually the end of the immigration process, but not the waiting.

The van drove us out to an intersection, not far out of the controlled area. We waited there for our original van to turn up, as that was the van that would take us to Nouadhibou. The van we were waiting in was headed for the capital, Nouakchott. Just 10 minutes later, the van we needed arrived and we were happily moving again! It had taken a total of 4 hours from when we first reached the border, to finally be on our way to our destination.

The Mauritanian Adventure Continues in The Little Town of Nouadhibou

Maybe I was just tired, but it seemed like a really long drive through endless desert before we arrived in the coastal city of Nouadhibou. The van driver kindly allowed me to use his phone to call my host, Haji, who came to pick me up shortly after. The driver also let Anna and David use his phone to call their host. Another guy from the van company then took them outside to get a taxi. Not long after that, Haji arrived. When he took me to his car, it realised he was the taxi, as Anna and David were inside!

K in Motion Travel Blog. Mauritanian Adventure - Coast to Capital on the Iron Train. Nouadhibou, Mauritania
Nouadhibou

One striking thing about Nouadhibou, is that there is almost as many donkey-drawn carts as cars on the road. They haul everything from food to electrical goods. Another interesting facet of Nouadhibou is the stores run by Chinese people. Haji informed me that they have lived in the country for many years, but don’t speak the local languages. They do have a reputation for having stuff that can’t be found anywhere else, though. Who would’ve thought you could practice Mandarin in Africa?

The Iron Train – A Mauritanian Adventure Not to be Missed!

K in Motion Travel Blog. Mauritanian Adventure - Coast to Capital on the Iron Train. The Iron Train. Nouadhibou, Mauritania
The Iron Train, Nouadhibou
This was the one Mauritanian adventure that I had no intention of missing out on! The Iron Train, as it’s known, runs empty from Nouadhibou to Zouerat, in the country’s north. It returns to Nouadhibou full of iron Ore. Not only is it the only train service in Mauritania, it’s also one of the longest trains in the world, at over 2 kilometres in length!

You can just jump on this train and ride for free for several hundred kilometres. Many locals actually use it regularly as a means of transport. I was only taking it to Choum, which is about halfway to Zouerat. All the information I’d found online had pointed to the train leaving around 2pm. I had inside information from Haji’s cousin, who works on the train, that it was leaving at 4pm. This meant that I got to spend an extra few hours waiting in the comfort of Haji’s place.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Mauritanian Adventure - Coast to Capital on the Iron Train. Ready for The Iron Train. Nouadhibou, Mauritania
Ready for the Iron Train!

My New Train Buddy

Haji found a man he knew to take care of me on the train. When it finally arrived at 16:30, I helped the man get his stuff in the train car. He busily set up his Iron Train camp stove and started preparing dinner. I had wondered earlier what was in all the bags and boxes he’d brought with him. This man had clearly done this before!

K in Motion Travel Blog. Mauritanian Adventure - Coast to Capital on the Iron Train. Setting up the car on The Iron Train. Nouadhibou, Mauritania
Setting up the car

The train finally departed, with a massive jolt, about 15 minutes later. Shortly after that, the man got out some money and started showing me the different types of Mauritanian notes and coins. As he showed me each note and coin he would also tell me the value in Arabic.

About 45 minutes into the journey, my train buddy got up from where he was resting on the floor and started praying. When he was done, the train came to a stop and many men from other cars got out to collect sticks, presumably for their own Iron Train camp stoves. My train buddy got to making some tea once the train jolted back into motion. I do love Mauritanian tea!

K in Motion Travel Blog. Mauritanian Adventure - Coast to Capital on the Iron Train. The Iron Train Camp Stove. Nouadhibou, Mauritania
Iron Train Camp Stove

Unscheduled Stops

It was only about 20 minutes later that we stopped again. After drinking his tea, the man in the car with me jumped out to have a walk around. Once he was back in the car, the train started moving again, but backwards. Everyone was looking a bit puzzled, until it stopped again and started moving forward. Maybe the driver was just having a laugh.

K in Motion Travel Blog. The Iron Train on the way to Choum from. Nouadhibou, Mauritania K in Motion Travel Blog. Mauritanian Adventure - Coast to Capital on the Iron Train. Me on The Iron Train on the way to Choum from Nouadhibou, Mauritania

Like any excited young kid on a train would, I hung my head out of the train car to watch our progress through the never-ending desert quite a few times. Every time I did, the constant barrage of sand trying to penetrate my face got too much and I had to retreat back into the car. Not that the sand situation was much better there. Who knew sand could get into areas covered with several layers of clothing I guess I got a free full body exfoliation session.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Mauritanian Adventure - Coast to Capital on the Iron Train. So Much Sand on The Iron Train on the way to Choum from. Nouadhibou, Mauritania
So much sand!

Mauritanian Adventure After Dark

Things started getting hotter on the train when the wind died down after sunset. That along with the constant jolting made it difficult to sleep. I did manage to get in bits here and there until my travel buddy woke me up at about 2:20am. We were already approaching Choum. I was a bit surprised, as I was expecting our arrival into Choum to be closer to 6am! I got my stuff and was ready to hop off as soon as the train stopped. My buddy got off with me and made sure that I got a seat in one of the waiting vans. He only got back in the car after I was sitting in the van.

Of course, it would be silly to think that the van would leave straight away because that’s just not how things work in Africa! Let’s just say that what should’ve been less than a 2 hour trip, was stretched out to 4 hours. There were various stops along the way for praying, drinking camel milk and changing a flat tyre.

So how many Mauritanians does it take to change a tyre badly and break a hydraulic jack? 5 apparently. They had no idea of the correct placement of the jack and had tried to jack the car up with a rock. That just ended damaging the car chassis. In perhaps the strangest part of my Mauritanian Adventure, there I was, in the middle of the desert, schooling 5 guys on how to change a tyre. My dad would’ve been proud!

Atar

We finally arrived in Atar, which seemed to have streets run almost exclusively by goats, around 6:30am. There was also a makeshift market set up at an intersection where people sold bread from wheelbarrows and vegetables from the sidewalk. Atar was about to take my Mauritanian adventure to the next level.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Mauritanian Adventure - Coast to Capital on the Iron Train. Atar Market, Mauritania
Atar Market

A lovely man that had started talking to me in the van to Atar, invited me back to his house. I still had a few hours to wait for transport to Nouakchott started at 8am. His family gave me some much needed cold water and a chance to freshen up. They also gave me a space for a well deserved, albeit short, rest. The man then took me back into the Atar town centre at 7:30am. It seemed the earliest bus was at 11am. I’d already had a very long trip from Nouadhibou, so I just wanted to leave as soon as possible.

The man then suggested that we go to the police post at the edge of town. He said that he’d find a car for me there which would depart earlier. As the police had to stop every car going past, they agreed to ask anyone going to Nouakchott if they could take me. What Mauritanian adventure would be complete without the police helping you to hitchhike!

Atar to Nouakchott

I only waited 5 minutes for a nice air-conditioned Toyota Corolla to come through and agree to take me along for the ride. My new short term travel buddies, Mohamed, Sidji and Khira, were very welcoming and even gave me some water. Conversation was a bit hard, as they didn’t speak English and I don’t speak Arabic or French. We found a way to understand each other.

We stopped in a town about 250km from Nouakchott where we had some BBQ goat and tea for lunch. Probably the most interesting lunch I’ve had in a while.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Roadside Goat and Overloaded Bus on the Way From Atar to Nouakchott, Mauritania
Roadside goat BBQ and overloaded bus

Once in Nouakchott, I made my way to my host Liz’s house. I was just in time for a delicious chicken dinner, then a long overdue and well-deserved shower. After an interesting chat, we went out for a very mellow night of Mauritanian tea, lovely chats and games in the breeze on a rooftop. What a great introduction to the city!

——————————————————————————————————————————————————————-

If you enjoyed the adventure, please let your friends know and click the picture to Pin it for later! :o)

Southern Morocco and Western Sahara

in Motion Travel Blog. Southern Morocco and Western Sahara. Domes in Laayoune

After experiencing some amazing hospitality in Northern Morocco I continued towards Southern Morocco and Western Sahara for some more Moroccan adventures! My first stop was Agadir.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Southern Morocco and Western Sahara. On the Road to Agadir
On the road to Agadir

Southern Morocco and Western Sahara – Agadir

Once I was settled in at my host’s place, we went for a walk. We had decided to head to the nearby souk, but my host had forgotten that it was closed on Monday. Whoops. We thought a detour to the beach area would be in order. The beach area had a carnival kind of atmosphere, with a Ferris wheel and dodge ’em cars. There were also people selling their wares along the promenade, expensive brightly lit restaurants and even a casino.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Southern Morocco and Western Sahara. Ferris Wheel at the Beach Area

Take Me Down to the Paradise Valley

The next day, I made my way to the Ibatwar area to get a taxi to Paradise Valley. Paradise Valley is a natural attraction containing rock pools. The taxi was super old. From the 1970s. It looked like it was barely holding together. A couple on a short holiday in Morocco were already waiting in the taxi. It was a five seater with the driver. It wouldn’t leave until there were six people in it, not including the driver. Four in the back seat and two in the front passenger seat. Was this a sign of things to come in Africa?

After waiting for what seemed like an eternity, but was probably only 30 minutes, no more passengers had joined us. We decided to go to a closer town, called Awrir and get a taxi to Paradise Valley from there instead. With the destination change, we were full up and ready to go a few short minutes later.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Southern Morocco and Western Sahara. Lovers in the Front Seat?
Lovers in the front seat?

A very squeezy and bumpy ride to Awrir ensued. When we got there, we were dropped off right next to a roomier green taxi. Thankfully, that was our ride the rest of the way to Paradise Valley.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Southern Morocco and Western Sahara. Cosy ride From Agadir to Awrir

Southern Morocco and Western Sahara – Paradise Valley

Upon arrival at the Valley, we started walking towards the trail to the rock pools. We passed some locals on the way, who of course offered us their guiding services. We could already see the trail by that point and it looked like it was very easy to follow, so we declined.

The first part of the trail was slightly uphill and very exposed, but fairly short. Once we got to the top we had a lovely view down into a valley lined with palm trees. A small steam could also be seen meandering through the trees, presumably running to, or from, the rock pools we were heading towards.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Southern Morocco and Western Sahara. Paradise Valley Stream

Another 5 Minutes on the trail brought us to a part of that steam where a small artificial swimming area and waterfall had been created by sandbags used to dam the watercourse. There were several stalls there offering drinks and Tangin, a local Moroccan dish, in clay pots.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Southern Morocco and Western Sahara. Paradise Valley Sandbag Waterfall

Making Friends With Locals at Paradise Valley

We continued along the trail for a few more minutes until we reached another area with stalls. A portly man from one of the stalls ushered us towards him to show us his food. We let him know that we were heading to the pools first. He then showed us the right trail to take and told us which way to go at the tricky junction. He also strongly encouraged us to come back to see him when we were finished.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Southern Morocco and Western Sahara. Paradise Valley. Small Rock Pool

Following his suggestions, we were soon looking down on people swimming in small pools and sunbathing on the surrounding rocks. There were even some people camping in the area, as well as kids jumping the 5 metres or so from near the trail, down into one of the pools.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Southern Morocco and Western Sahara. Paradise Valley. Large Rock Pool

Once we’d walked to the end of the pools to see the small waterfall, we were feeling a bit hungry, so we returned to the portly man’s stall for some food.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Southern Morocco and Western Sahara. Paradise Valley Tables in Water

After filling up on food, I returned to the entrance to grab a taxi back to Agadir, while the portly man showed the couple I was with the secret swimming hole where they could enjoy a peaceful, secluded swim away from the crowds.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Southern Morocco and Western Sahara. Paradise Valley Home Made Bridge

Finding a way Back to Agadir

Once I’d made the short trip back to the road, I found a green taxi to take me all the way back to Agadir for only a few dirham more than the taxi I’d gotten to Awrir earlier. I was already sold on that fact alone, but then the lovely driver offered small glasses of cold water to all his passengers. Given how hot it was, they were very appreciated!

K in Motion Travel Blog. Southern Morocco and Western Sahara. Paradise Valley Green Taxi

While I wouldn’t say that Paradise Valley is spectacular in any way, it is still quite lovely and it was nowhere near as crowded as I thought a popular tourist destination would be. Also, considering it’s free to enter the area, I think it’s definitely worth the visit. At around 30 dirhams, or €3 each way for transport and 45 dirhams, about €4.5, for the portly man’s food, it certainly is a cheap way to spend a day with nature and relax for a while.

Laayoune, Capital of Western Sahara

From Agadir, I continued onto Laayoune, the capital city of Western Sahara. There were a couple of things I noticed about Laayoune straight away. One was structures on roundabouts. These normally took the form of fountains, sometimes accompanied by trees. The other was the sheer amount of Moroccan flags hung on street lights or in other public areas. Obviously, this is the Moroccan government trying to assert their ‘rule’ over the area. You see, no UN member state officially recognises Moroccan sovereignty in Western Sahara. That essentially makes it a state under Moroccan occupation.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Southern Morocco and Western Sahara. Laayoune Roundabout Fountain
Roundabout fountain

Locals there do not consider themselves Moroccan and would rather be formally recognised as their own sovereign state. The occupying government has policies in place that mean their families and livelihoods could be under threat if they make their true views known. They even fear talking about it in private in case they are being surveilled. That’s why you never really hear of protests in the area, despite local sentiment. Police checks along the roads aimed at finding out if journalists are in the country could be another factor.

Another thing that became very clear whilst walking around Laayoune was that it was windy all the time. There was no point during my stay where there was no wind. The effect of the wind was very cooling though, which meant that even though the sun was quite hot, the ambient temperature was quite pleasant. I was okay with that.

Yet Another Long Bus Ride

I purchased my onward ticket to Dakhla at the bus station as there was no bus from Laayoune that went all the way to the Mauritanian border. I was seated next to a guy who had figured he had two seats to himself. When I moved his stuff to his seat and sat down, he got all angry. Pointing at the number on my ticket didn’t make him any happier. He tried to grab my bag, then he tried to grab me. I shooed him away and luckily the lady who was sitting across the aisle said something that made him stop and he went back outside.

With that crisis averted, it was a pretty uneventful trip to Dakhla, where I had to wait for the ticket office to open before I could get my bus ticket to the border.

 in Motion Travel Blog. Southern Morocco and Western Sahara. Bus to Dakhla from Laayoune

Shortly after leaving the Dakhla station there was a police stop which seemed specifically aimed at checking up on how many foreigners were on the bus. They only asked for foreign passports. One of the policemen asked me some questions, but I couldn’t understand his English. At one point it sounded like he was saying, “Is this your nation”, when he was actually saying, “What’s your destination?”. That explains the confused look.

As we were driving along, the ever-present wind had been hard at work moving the sand dunes onto the road. In fact, the whole right-hand side lane had been rendered completely unusable for a couple of kilometres. Some of the sand had even started encroaching on the left-hand lane, meaning that the bus had to move onto the road shoulder at a few points on the journey. I’d never seen anything like that before, so I was equally amazed and frightened at the power of nature. And what trip to Morocco would be complete without a camel blocking your way?

K in Motion Travel Blog. Southern Morocco and Western Sahara. Camel on the Road

??Morocco and Western Sahara Summary??

 in Motion Travel Blog. Southern Morocco and Western Sahara. Travels in Morocco
Travels in Morocco

In a few words – Tea and amorous locals
Languages – French and Arabic
Currency – Moroccan Dirham (MAD)
WiFi Availability – ?????
Cafes with WiFi are everywhere. Most will give you the WiFi password without buying something, just check with them first. Some will be sneaky and try to charge you for it.
Transport – ?????
? Modern air-conditioned coaches are used on all intercity routes, but their cost is on par with European coaches.
Public transport systems are pretty well developed in major cities and reasonably priced.
? There are trains in the north, but they are expensive and rarely run to schedule.
? Shared taxis can be found for short trips and they’re normally reasonably priced, but they will be overcrowded.
Roads – ?????
All main roads, as well as suburban roads, are sealed and well maintained.
Scenery – ?????
The combined area of Northern and Southern Morocco and Western Sahara is huge! It offers a great variety of scenery, from coastal plains, to snow-tipped mountains, to tree-lined streets and moving desert sands.
Prices – ???
Most things, except for transport, are quite reasonably priced in Morocco. You can get a meal at a cafe for around 30 MAD, (€2.7). Note that the prices get more expensive the closer you are to tourist areas. Marrakech and Casablanca, for example, are more expensive than places like Tanger and Agadir.
Checkpoints – ??
I didn’t encounter any checkpoints until I was on the way from Dakhla to Rosso, near the Mauritanian border. They specifically exist to check that foreign journalists aren’t trying to sneak into a sensitive area. Officers will look at your passport and ask what your occupation is, then let your bus go.
Border efficiency – ????
The port entry was quite efficient. The land border was relatively efficient, but the lack of signage made it a little confusing.
Corruption level – No corruption was evident.
Overall – ?????

—————————————————————————————————————————————–

If you’ve liked reading about Southern Morocco and Western Sahara, please Pin It for later :o)

Adventures in Northern Morocco

After a great introduction to Africa in the lovely Port of Tanger at Morocco’s Northern tip, I had hopped on a bus to continue my adventures in Northern Morocco.

Adventures in Northern Morocco – Casablanca

I was super hungry once I reached Casablanca, so I tried to find a cafe where I could sit down for a meal. In Tanger, cafes always sold food, but it turns out that cafes in Casablanca only sold coffee, not food. Not even snacks. They also seemed to be full of men just hanging out watching a world cup match. Ahh, the perils of travelling in Africa during the FIFA World Cup!

It was time to give up on the idea of getting some food and hope that tea and Wifi could take its place. Once online, I’d received a message from my pre-arranged host saying that he could no longer host me. Uh oh! Panic mode engaged! I madly searched for another host. Luckily a couple of Khalids that I had been conversing with in the weeks prior to my trip came to the rescue. Khalid is a common name in Morocco!

Meeting the Locals

The first Khalid, let’s call him Khalid number 1, tried to organise a car to drive the 70 kilometres from the town he was in, to pick me up. He would then drive me the 70 kilometres back to his town and host me there. The Second Khalid, let’s call him Khalid no 2, also offered to help me out by picking me up and hosting me at his place in Casablanca. Aren’t Morrocans awesome?

Obviously, it was much easier to stay in Casablanca to save Khalid number 1 a 3 hour round trip. So I went to Khalid number 2’s house and met his housemates. One of the housemates was hilarious. He was walking around dancing whilst on a video call to his girlfriend. No talking, just dancing. Then he just handed the phone to me, so I could talk to his girlfriend while he continued dancing. I guess if you gotta dance, you gotta dance!

Exploring the City

After chatting with Khalid number 2, his housemates and the girlfriend for a bit, Khalid drove me and one of his housemates around for food. Then a tour of the city which included a drive-by of the biggest mosque in Africa, Hassan II Mosque. We ended up eating near the beach which is apparently where everyone, from partygoers to families, to rose and toy sellers, came out to play at night. The beachside promenade was lined with restaurants and clubs. The clubs seem to serve a slightly different purpose to what they do in other places. There was no pounding music and drunken dancing, just people sitting around and chatting while smoking and eating.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Adventure in Northern Morocco. Beach Club

The next morning, Khalid number 1 didn’t want to get up, so his friend drove me to the train station. There I boarded a train for a short ride to a little town, 70 kilometres away, called Settat, where I would meet Khalid number 2. Once I’d bought my ticket, I went to a small snack shop at the station to get some food. They had tacos! But they were a little bit different to your average taco. They were just meat and vegetables wrapped in tortillas. I guess you don’t go to Morrocco for Mexican food!

The train was not airconditioned, but I didn’t become aware of that until more than halfway through the journey. At that point, I was sitting right in the direct path of the sun. Let’s just say that last part of the ride was uncomfortable enough that I was really glad to exit the train once we arrived!

Adventures in Northern Morocco – Settat

I caught up on some writing in a cafe near the station whilst waiting for Khalid number 2 to come and get me. As I was leaving the cafe, the staff called out to Khalid to say that I had to pay, even though I’d only had some hot water. Apparently, they charge 11 dirhams (€1) for using their WiFi. But only if you’re a tourist. Of course they don’t tell you that before you sit down. It’s not normal practice in Morocco but as Khalid later told me, this cafe is infamous for ripping people off. Even locals. They get away with it because they have the best coffee in town. The things people do for coffee!

Khalid and I hopped in a taxi to get to his district. After the taxi had driven off, I realised that my sports water bottle must’ve fallen out onto the seat. Unfortunately, we didn’t get the taxi number, so we decided to check at the taxi changeover depot later in the day.

Moroccan Hospitality

Upon arriving at the home of Khalid’s family in Settat, I was greeted with hugs and kisses! These kind people welcomed me like a member of the family. How sweet! After a small rest, Khalid took me to the local butcher so I could buy my dinner. But his family wouldn’t let me cook it. Or even help them to cook it They insisted that because I was their guest, they had to take care of it for me. This Moroccan hospitality is really something!

K in Motion Travel Blog. Adventures in Northern Morocco. Friendly Neighbourhood Butcher
Friendly Neighbourhood Butcher

They insisted that I drink some tea and talk while I waited for them to prepare my dinner. Moroccan tea is pretty awesome, so I didn’t argue. It has fresh mint added to it before it is boiled. That means that it’s fairly strong, but oh so delicious!

K in Motion Travel Blog. Adventures in Northern Morocco. Home Cooked DinnerHome Cooked Dinner

Exploring Settat

After dinner, Khalid and I went for a walk up a hill to see the sunset. On the way up a couple of boys walking a dog called out to me. After they’d asked all the standard questions aimed at foreigners, one of them told me I had “beautiful hairs”.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Adventures in Northern Morocco. Settat Sunset

On the way back down, Khalid flagged down a taxi to see if we could find my water bottle. The driver told us to get in, despite the fact that he already had a passenger onboard. Apparently, taxis in Settat will take as many passengers as they can carry, then the driver will just decide what each person pays when they want to get out.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Adventures in Northern Morocco. Settat

Upon finding the depot closed, we walked to the main square to check out a local craft maker fair that was happening. While we were there, we searched some local shops for a small Moroccan flag to add to my collection. Khalid offered to get it for me, because he believed that he would be able to get a cheaper price due to the fact that he was Moroccan. After walking around the town for a bit, we went back to the family home for more food and tea.

Schedule? What Schedule?

The next morning, Khalid’s family had kindly prepared for me a delicious breakfast. After I’d finished eating, Khalid took me to the train station. The taxi depot was just down the road from the train station, so we made a quick stop there. Unfortunately, my bottle wasn’t there, but there was a heap of other things there. Like keys, handbags and other miscellaneous things that had been left in taxis.

Adventures in Northern Morocco – Getting to Marrakech

Once at the station, we had to wait in line for a while, so by the time we got to the ticket window, it was 3 minutes after the scheduled departure time for the train that was yet to arrive. We waited on the platform for a further 6 minutes before it arrived. The delays didn’t end there either. About 20 minutes into the trip, the train just stopped in the middle of nowhere for 30 minutes. Almost as suddenly as it had stopped, it started moving again, albeit it very slowly, only to stop again just 10 minutes later. For an hour! A few more random stops along the way turned a 3 hour train trip into a 5 hour train trip. I guess the arrival and departure times indicated on the timetable are only suggestions.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Adventures in Northern Morocco. Marrakech

At the end of the train line in Marrakech, I had to transfer to a bus at the bus station behind the train station. The driver ushered me on to the bus and I took my seat thinking that it would be leaving soon, but of course, I wasn’t to be that lucky! I guess the bus driver was waiting for the bus to fill up, so I was sat there for nearly an hour before we moved. It seemed my half day trip had now turned into an almost full day trip. That’s just how things work in Africa!

More Moroccan knowledge
– Moroccans will go out of their way to help someone in need
– Locals can’t comprehend having a meal without bread
– schedules really, really don’t mean a thing
– Moroccan families just can’t do enough for their guests

The adventure continues into Southern Morocco and Western Sahara

————————————————————————————————————————————————

If you’ve enjoyed reading about these adventures in Northern Morocco, please Pin It for later :o)

A Local Experience in The Port of Tanger in Northern Morocco

I had excitedly boarded a ferry at the Tarifa port in southern Spain ready for a new adventure! Just 35 minutes later I’d stepped onto another continent. Beginning at the sunny port of Tanger in Northern Morocco.

The Port of Tanger

It was a fairly short walk from where the ferry was berthed to the road out the front. I hadn’t even made it out of the secured area of the port before the touts started. The first person to stop me was a registered tour guide who promised the best tour of the port of Tanger in Northern Morocco, of course! He let me continue on my way once I’d told him that I was meeting a friend in town. There were also the familiar calls of, “Taxi? Taxi?” on the way out. It seemed like an eternity before I made it to the road. Once I finally made it, an older man stopped me. He thought that I looked lost. He gave me directions to the medina (city centre), then told me not to trust anyone. I’m not sure if that included him or not.

K in Motion Travel Blog. The Port of Tanger in Northern Morocco. Near the Ferry Port

Finding the bus I needed to catch to my friend’s place in the suburbs of the port of Tanger in Northern Morocco proved to be a little more problematic than one would think. Firstly, it was almost impossible to find someone who understood English. Everyone was expecting me to speak French. Then I was sent in the wrong direction several times by people that wanted to help, but obviously had no idea where the bus left from. After an hour of walking around Tanger and bugging strangers for directions, I almost accidentally stumbled upon the correct bus stop. You could say I was very relieved.

K in Motion Travel Blog. The Port of Tanger in Northern Morocco. Tanger Town Centre

A Local Bus Ride in the Port of Tanger in Northern Morocco

Happy that things in Tanger should start to get more simple from then on, I cheerily got on the bus. I advised the driver of the name of the place I needed to go. The only problem was that the driver didn’t know the name of the place I had given him. Firstly I thought I was pronouncing it wrong, so I wrote it down for him. He still had no idea. Then a nice lady on the bus who knew a little bit of English helped me out. She went around the bus asking everyone where the place was. It took nearly the entire journey, but she found one person at the back who knew. Thanks to a wonderful group effort, I was finally able to get to my destination.

My host, Noissair came to meet me and we went back to his place. There I met his lovely housemates, who chatted with me for hours. They were very happy to share their thoughts with me, especially about what a lot of Moroccans think about the French language. Apparently, there’s a bit of a movement to try to change the second language in Morocco from French to English. It came about because many think French as useless for communicating with the world, particularly in business settings. Some interesting points were made.

After such an interesting and challenging day, I was exhausted. I retired to bed to ready myself for the adventures to come.

The Challenges of Getting From the Port of Tanger in Northern Morocco to Casablanca

The next morning, I got myself back to the intercity bus station in the city centre. Once there, I couldn’t walk two steps without someone trying to get me on their bus. It seemed that buses to Casablanca run extremely regularly. That meant it would be easy to get one whenever I needed it, so I decided to walk around for a bit. I wanted to find something to eat before getting on a bus. Well, that did not turn out as planned due to the fact that people were smoking inside all of the cafes near the station.

Seeing as lunch was a bust, I decided to change some money. That also didn’t go according to plan. The first 2 places I went to, that looked very much like currency exchange places, didn’t exchange currency. Surely a bank can change it, right? Apparently not when there’s a problem with their system. I finally got to a bank that could change currency and they wouldn’t accept one of my notes. Because it wasn’t new. It wasn’t particularly old either, that back just had high standards. Luckily I had more where that came from.

Back at the bus station, I was again accosted by the first person upon entering. They got me on a bus leaving within 5 minutes that was 10 dirhams cheaper than the one someone had tried to get me on earlier. Before we left the station, a young boy got on the bus selling ‘Kleenex’, which is apparently the name applied to all tissue products in Morocco. He was followed closely by an older guy selling portable USB chargers. Those guys certainly did their market research!

Drama on the Side of the Road

To break up an otherwise long and boring bus ride, the bus stopped on the side of the highway. We were there for about 20 minutes while a woman argued with the bus staff. She wanted them to drop her in a town that the bus wasn’t scheduled to go to. Many passengers got off the bus to watch the exchange because, as I was informed by the young man sitting next to me, Moroccans love to watch arguments.

After the commotion was finally over and we started moving, the young man, who was by far the best English speaker I had come across in Morocco so far, started telling me about how he hates the French language. That’s why he doesn’t speak it. He also revealed that he’d learnt all his English from watching television and movies. He told me that the English taught at schools there isn’t nearly good enough for use in the real world. I guess that’s bound to when it’s the third language most people learn.

What I’ve learned about Morocco so far –
– schedules are just a guide and rarely adhered to
– simple things are way more challenging than you would expect.

Let’s see what else I can learn before I’m through. The Moroccan adventures continue here

——————————————————————————————————————————————–

If you’ve enjoyed reading about a local experience in the port of Tanger in Northern Morocco, let your friends know and click the picture you like to Pin It for later! :o)