Senegal Again

K in Motion Travel Blog. Swamplands on the Drive Through Southern Senegal, West Africa

After clearing Gambia immigration, we drove for probably 5 minutes before reaching the Senegal immigration area, where the officer asked if I had a visa. All I could think was, oh no, here we go again with the bribe dance. I decided I could stop it before it started by showing him the previous 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

I could instantly see that the landscape of the south of Senegal was much less dry and a lot greener than that of 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 Dalasis (250, €4.40) then exchanged my remaining Dalasis back to West African Francs (CFA), for a pretty good rate.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Roadside Swamp Area in Southern Senegal
Roadside Swamp in Southern Senegal

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 because I was a little peckish, but mainly because I 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

Once we were on the road to Ziguinchor, I started talking to a guy from Bissau, named Amadou. He and the driver, had earlier helped get my seat back when a Senegalese guy had taken it by mistake. Seats are assigned by the company at the time you buy the ticket and they get very annoyed if you don’t take the seat assigned to you. I’m not completely sure why it matters though. Another African quirk, I guess.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Luxury Transport to Ziguincor, Southern Senegal, Western Africa
Luxury transport to Ziguinchor

It was a relatively short and uneventful drive to Ziguinchor in Southern Senegal. Only the driver stopping a few times to put water in the radiator broke up the monotony. When we arrived at the station in Ziguinchor, the driver took me a man at the station, called Mustafa, who spoke English and was apparently the man to see for all your needs.

Mustafa took me on his bike to the Guinea-Bissau Embassy to check if I had the right visa, but we had both forgotten that it was Saturday and the embassy was therefore closed. He called the number on the gate and the embassy staff were there a minute later. They checked and advised that the visa I had was not valid for overland entry, so they opened the embassy for 10 minutes to give me the proper visa. I couldn’t imagine something like that happening back home!

Once we got back to the station, Mustafa helped me find a black market currency exchange guy, so I could get local currency to pay for the bus 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, but I wasn’t really expecting much from a bus station!

Thankfully, the car from Ziguinchor went straight to Guinea-Bissau, so there was no need to change to another car after the border. The crossing was rather uneventful and 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 quite a distance from the Senegal immigration post, but the driver kindly pointed out the actual frontier at a junction between the 2 immigration areas, then welcomed me to Guinea-Bissau.

πŸ‡ΈπŸ‡³Senegal SummaryπŸ‡ΈπŸ‡³
In a few words – Hot women and helpful men
Language – French and local languages
Currency – West African Franc (CFA)
WiFi availability – πŸ“ΆπŸ“ΆπŸ“Ά
Decent WiFi is available, but it can take a bit of searching to find.
Transport – πŸš—πŸš—
🚘 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 – πŸ›£ πŸ›£ πŸ›£
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 – πŸœπŸŒ³πŸ–πŸŒ³πŸž
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 – πŸ’°
Senegal is another great place to visit on a budget. In some places, 100 CFA (€0.15) can get you 2 hard boiled eggs, but 500 CFA (€0.7) can get you just about any snack imaginable on the side of a road, while 2000 CFA (€3) can get you a meal in a small eatery.
Checkpoints – πŸ›‘
I can only recall hitting one checkpoint in Senegal, right after leaving the transport station near the Rosso (Mauritanian) Border.
Border efficiency – πŸ›ƒπŸ›ƒ
If it wasn’t for the immigration officer spending an hour trying to get a bribe out of me at the Rosso border, Senegal would’ve scored much better in this category. Entering Senegal seems to be the time officers will try for a bribe, but I found that opening your passport to the page with the previous Senegal stamp, helps you get through more quickly.
Exiting into Gambia and Guinea-Bissau was 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 – πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘

Gambia

K In Motion Travel Blog. Near Soma, Gambia

Entering
Just a short 1 minute walk from the Senegal immigration area and I found myself at what looked like it could be Gambia immigration, but I wasn’t really sure. I approached and one of the policemen standing outside ushered me inside, after first inquiring about my well being. He took me to a room at the back of the building where a man in a white shirt asked for my passport and said, β€œOh, 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, gave me his 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 about the reasons for visiting and duration of stay, then pulled out a piece of paper to check if my country was on the list of countries requiring a visa, which of course it wasn’t. He then stated, β€œYou 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 and he just nodded, stamped my passport and let me go. I was in Gambia!
Kez = 2, African Border Corruption = 0

Despite the implied marriage proposal and the sneaky bribe request, this was probably one of the most efficient border crossings 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 for 100 Dalasis, or around €2, where I got the Ferry to Banjul, the capital of Gambia, for 45 Dalasis (€0.80).

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

As far as ferries go, this one wasn’t large, with room for probably only 30 cars, squeezed in Africa style, and only 1 open-air passenger deck. It chugs along rather slowly, so you only feel a slight breeze as you move. This gives you time to relax and enjoy the view over the Gambia River, which 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
Sunset

The bubble of serenity that I now had surrounding me was instantly popped upon stepping into the Banjul port. Within seconds I was engulfed by a sea of taxi drivers, who 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, so everyone was using the light from their phones to navigate through the muddy streets.

K In Motion Travel Blog. Banjul, Gambia
Banjul

Glad to be 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 and 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 for the same distance, when my host had said he’d pick me up from the port, he’d not mentioned anything about it being at my expense. 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 so tired by that point that I didn’t want 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 delicious specially made food in the dark. My host kept saying that the power would be back on soon, but I was asleep before it was.

K In Motion Travel Blog. Brikama, Gambia
Brikama

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, which I agreed to after checking that this friend wasn’t expecting me to pay for his fuel. It turns out this friend had something to do and wouldn’t be available until the afternoon, which would be too late to be able to get there and back in one day.

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, so I couldn’t even put my feet on 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

Along the road, there were several police checkpoints, with the first being at a town about 6km away, where the road to the border intersected with the road we were on. When he entered the bus, I gave the policeman, let’s call him Mr Grumpypants, my ID as instructed. He then started complaining that I should show him my passport, even though no one else in the bus needed to show a passport. He eventually just accepted the ID, but then we had to wait while he took some locals that had no ID into the station to give them some papers to get them through the checkpoints ahead.

In stark contrast to Mr Grumpypants, the police officer at the last checkpoint, let’s call him Mr Happypants, was happy when anyone made the effort to produce their documents and individually thanked everyone as they showed their ID by saying, β€œThank you very much for showing me your ID”.

The road was fairly decent 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

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 that did this cute little head bobbing thing whenever they stopped running. Do you think they’d let me take one home with me?

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

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, where 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 would happen if we didn’t get his permission. Fair enough.

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

With all formalities now taken care of, I was eager to hit the Gambian mountains, although I couldn’t seem to see any nearby. 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
View from the hill

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 checkpoint 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 Senegal
Getting to the border from Brikama was relatively cheap (around 150 Dalasis or €2.50, I think) 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, but the good thing was that this car would be taking me all the way to a bus station in Senegal and not just leaving me at the border.

At the Gambian immigration post, the officers seemed more interested in chatting with me than checking my passport. They were pretty relaxed and had actually started planning my return trip for me. I kinda got the feeling that they didn’t get non-Africans passing through that border often. 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?

πŸ‡¬πŸ‡²Gambia SummaryπŸ‡¬πŸ‡²
In a few words – Waving and smiling kids
Language – English and local language
Currency – Gambian Dalasi (GMD)
WiFi availability – πŸ“ΆπŸ“Ά
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 – πŸš—πŸš—πŸš—
🚘 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 the metal framed seats are covered with a thin layer of padding that does nothing to protect you from the frame.
🚍 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 – πŸ›£ πŸ›£ πŸ›£
The intercity roads were all sealed and fairly well maintained, whereas suburban roads tended to be made of dirt and some of them didn’t fare well after rains.
Scenery – 🌳🏞🌳🏞🌳
The Gambia is much more tropical and green than the countries to the north and has almost no trace of dust.
Prices – πŸ’°
Another great place to visit on a budget. Snack size servings of tropical fruits like coconut and mango were readily available from roadside sellers for 5 Dalasi (€0.80) and a meal from a restaurant could be found for around 200 (€3.50)
Checkpoints – πŸ›‘
I only encountered one checkpoint, about 5km out of Brikama, near the border area.
Border efficiency – πŸ›ƒπŸ›ƒπŸ›ƒπŸ›ƒ
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 if you don’t want to hand over your cash. When entering Gambia, a cheeky officer tried to tell me and some Europeans that we needed to pay for an entry stamp, but happily stamped our passport and let us go when we refused.
Overall – πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘

Senegal

K in Motion Travel Blog. Canoes on the Senegal River

Once clearing Mauritanian immigration, we were treated to a short, peaceful canoe ride across the Senegal River, to the Senegal side for 100MRO (about €2).

K in Motion Travel Blog, Senegal River
Senegal River

As we got off the boat, a friendly immigration officer met us at the dock and ushered us to the window where our passports would get checked. Inside the window was a plump old man who seemed more interested in chatting to unseen people at the back of the room he was in, than checking passports. Anna and David, the couple I had crossed the river with were processed before me with no problems, but 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 indeed not the case and I showed him the screenshot I had of the page showing that a visa was not required.

Not willing to believe the information put in front of him, the man produced a document in French that had my country on a list of countries that could get a free visa on arrival. I pointed out to him, that if that was the case, he should be the one to provide that visa, being the immigration guy. He wanted to argue some more about why he wasn’t going to do that, but eventually just stamped my passport and let me go with a warning that I would need a visa if I entered Senegal again. Never mind that letting someone who apparently requires a visa into the country without a visa makes absolutely no sense at all.

I had heard that this border was notorious for stunts like this and I presume the document in French and the plump old man’s patronising demeanor, are part of an intricate ploy to try to get a bribe out of lone travellers. Perhaps he was counting on me turning up to his country and not knowing anything about the visa regulations, but who would be that stupid? Or perhaps he thought that as a lone traveller, I might just concede and pay some money to make the problem go away. I guess in these cases, if you stand your ground for long enough and they see that you’re not going to back down, they give up and let you go.
Kez = 1; African border corruption = 0

With the completion of another supposedly easy process that had been turned into an epic mission, I headed further into the border area to find a black market money changer, cause that’s how you do it in Africa. Surprisingly, I actually got a pretty good rate for Euro from a dress wearing man. He must’ve been running quite low on Euro to offer such a good rate. From there, with the help of a very kind Senegalese man called Mumoudou, who had been in the van from Nouakchott with us and had taken us under his wing, we got a shared taxi to the station a short distance away, where we would find our onward transport.

K in Motion Travel Blog, Stalls at the Station near Senegal Border
Stalls at the station

The station, of course, was buzzing with craziness. Mumoudou told us to keep close to him and not talk to anyone, which was slightly easier said than done, with all the people gathering around trying to get us to buy toothpaste or get into their car. Mumoudou found the car to St Louis and organised us all tickets for it. We put our bags in the car and figured that we could relax a bit, now that 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 and told us that 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, without us paying an extra fee.

K in Motion Travel Blog, Shared Taxi near Senegal Border
Shared taxi

On his little walk, Mumoudou had found a car going straight to Dakar, so I decided to swap to that one and thankfully they didn’t try to get extra money out of me. It was at that point that I had to say farewell to Anna and David. They will visit the same West African countries I intend to visit, then continue heading on down to South Africa, as they’ve quit their jobs to experience Africa for at least a year. 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

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

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 women dressed in what most people would probably 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!

Once our car was ready to go. The little boy that had been sitting in it had disappeared and his mother sitting on the seat in front was laying down on her husbands lap like she was sick. It turns out that her son didn’t have papers to show the police just outside the station, so he had 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 they asked, she could say she paid for 2 seats because she was ill. Sneaky.

Whilst making our way to Dakar, a lovely Mauritanian man in the car started talking to me and when he left the car a little before Dakar, he gave the driver instructions to call my host when he got me to the station in Dakar. 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

After a few hours on the road, we stopped at a town called Gueoul, where most of the others in the car went off to pray, while I was just glad to not be sitting in an uncomfortable car. One thing I noticed is that there seemed to be a lot of speed bumps on the road, which was supposedly a highway, as we were approaching towns, which of course slowed us down a bit. By the time I reached Dakar, it was dark, so I just met my host, who happened to live in the ‘ghetto’ area called Grand Medine, grabbed some food and decided to rest early. Boring I know, but the days events had taken their toll on me.

Dakar
This place is really 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 seems to be very eager to talk to you, even if they don’t speak your language. They also seem very eager for you to take their phone number within a few minutes of initiating a conversation, just in case you need their help while you’re there.

K in Motion Travel Blog, The Ghetto in Dakar, Senegal
The ghetto

One of my missions while in Dakar was to my Guinean visa from the Guinean Embassy there. 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 and placed it 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.

K in Motion Travel Blog, Street Art in Dakar, Senegal
Street art in Dakar

While walking around Dakar could be a little overwhelming, it was also amazing how friendly everyone was. I could never walk very far by myself without someone offering to help me get to where I was going. People would often just start walking with me and chatting to keep me company or invite me to a little roadside tent for tea or food. One guy tried to help me, but didn’t know exactly where the place I wanted to go was, so he stopped in a random shop to ask a stranger for assistance. The stranger was only too happy to oblige.

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

Even though I’d aimed to spend most of my time exploring the city by myself, I was never alone for long enough to achieve it. Even when eating a meal, it wouldn’t be long before a local saw me sitting alone and decided to join me. I even had offers for people to keep me company for my onward travels to Gambia. While sometimes, you just want some alone time, it’s nice to be in a place where everyone has time for other people and are willing to offer their help so freely.

Getting to the Border
One of the kind people 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 arrived at the bus station. Upon arrival, a guy from the bus to ‘Gambia’ tried to get me to run, because the bus was ready to leave, but that wasn’t going to happen! I was surprised to find that the bus was only about half full when I got inside. Normally in these circumstances, buses won’t leave the station until they’re full.

It seemed that the driver had thought he could pick up the rest of the passengers on the way, which I guess is fine in theory. The problem with that approach is that it required driving around side streets and constantly stopping. It took us 2 hours just to get the airport area, which was only about 40 kilometres from the bus station where we’d started. Even though I’d gotten to the station in the morning, I still hadn’t left the city by the start of the afternoon.

K in Motion Travel Blog, Kids Playing on the Beach near Dakar, Senegal
Kids playing on the beach

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

K in Motion Travel Blog, Life's a Beach near Dakar, Senegal
Life’s a 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. Getting Greener away from Dakar, Senegal.
Getting greener

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 probably only supposed to seat about 20 people, but at one stage there were 36 people squeezed in there, including kids!

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, but the wait was shortened considerably when the officer processing people entering, ushered us into his lane. Even though he didn’t really speak any English, he was very friendly and even asked me where I wanted him to place the stamp. Overall, exiting through this border was quite easily and it had the best signage of any border so far!

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, to 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 some locals to check the actual situation before altering your plans.

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, but you will 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, β€œOld 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 and at each one you are expected to supply a Fiche. 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, but I 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, as 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 and 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.

The Mauritanian Capital, Nouakchott and Beyond

K in Motion Travel Blog, Nouakchott, Mauritania

Nouakchott
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.

K in Motion Travel Blog, Nouakchott, Mauritania. Yellow Fever Vaccine
Did you know that death is the fatal end?

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.

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!

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.

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, 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.

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?

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.

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.

πŸ‡²πŸ‡»Mauritania SummaryπŸ‡²πŸ‡»

Travels in Mauritania

In a few words – Dust, tea and friendly locals
Languages – French, Arabic and local languages
Currency – Mauritanian Ouguiya (MRU)
WiFi Availability – πŸ“ΆπŸ“ΆπŸ“ΆπŸ“Ά
WiFi is available if you know where to look, but it can be quite slow.
Transport – πŸš—πŸš—πŸš—πŸš—
🚘 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.
πŸš‡ 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 – πŸ›£πŸ›£πŸ›£πŸ›£
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 – πŸ’°
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 – πŸ›‘πŸ›‘πŸ›‘πŸ›‘πŸ›‘
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 – πŸ›ƒπŸ›ƒ
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 – πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘

Mauritanian Adventure – Coast to Capital on the Iron Train

The Iron Train, Nouadhibou, Mauritania

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! :o)

Southern Morocco and Western Sahara

Agadir

My host and I went for a walk around the city area and decided to head to the nearby souk, but he had forgotten that it was closed on Monday. We decided to walk down to the beach area instead. The beach area had a carnival kind of atmosphere, with a ferris wheel and dodge ’em cars, people selling their wares along the promenade, expensive brightly lit restaurants and even a casino.

The beach

Paradise Valley
I made my way to the Ibatwar area to get a taxi to Paradise Valley. The taxi was super old, like from the 1970s, and looked like it was barely holding together. A couple on a short holiday in Morocco were already waiting in the taxi, which was supposed to be a 5 seater, including the driver, but it wouldn’t leave until there were 6 people, not including the driver.

After waiting for what seemed like an eternity, but was probably only 30 minutes, for the taxi to fill up, we decided to go to a closer town, called Awrir instead. With the destination change, we were full up and ready to go a few minutes later.

Lovers in the front seat?

A very squeezy and bumpy ride to Awrir ensued, where we were dropped off right next to the roomier green taxi that we needed to take the rest of the way to Paradise Valley.

Cosy

Upon arrival at the Valley, we started walking to the trail and were offered the guiding expertise of some locals, but as we already knew the trail was easy to follow, we declined and continued on our own.

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.

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.

Sandbag waterfall

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, but once we advised him we were heading to the pools first, he showed us the way and directed us on where to go when there was a junction. He also strongly encouraged us to come back to see him when we were finished.

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. 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.

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.

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!

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, 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 tress. 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 because technically it’s a different country under Moroccan occupation.

Roundabout fountain

Locals here do not consider themselves Moroccan and would rather be formally recognised as a sovereign state, but the occupying government has policies in place that mean their families and livelihoods could be under threat if they make their true views known. I guess that’s why you never really hear of protests in the area, despite local sentiment. Another reason could be the police checks along the roads aimed at finding out if journalists are in the country.

Another thing that became very clear whilst walking around was that it seemed to be windy all the time. I don’t think there was any point during my whole 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
Back at the bus station I purchased my onward ticket to Dakhla. I’d been assigned a seat next to some dude who had figured he had 2 seats to himself, so had put his stuff all over my seat while he stood outside the bus. I moved his stuff to his seat and sat down, but he came back into the bus, all angry. I really don’t know what he was saying, but he seemed to think that it was his seat. Pointing to the seat number and my ticket didn’t seem to make him any happier and he tried to grab my bag, then 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.

A few minutes later, the guy was talking to the bus driver and they had called the ticket sales guy out, although I’m not sure why, cause the bus was clearly full. Eventually, the woman across the aisle packed the guys stuff into a bag and put it on her seat, then sat in the seat next to me. Fun times.

Shortly after leaving the station there was a police stop which seemed specifically aimed at checking up on how many foreigners were on the bus, as they only asked for foreign passports. One of the policemen asked me some questions, but his English was so bad that I had no idea what he was saying. At one point it sounded like he was saying, “is this your nation”, but he was apparently saying what’s your destination.

As we were driving along, it was obvious that 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 has to swerve partly into 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.

πŸ‡²πŸ‡¦Morocco and Western Sahara SummaryπŸ‡ͺπŸ‡­

Travels in Morocco and Western Sahara

In a few words – Tea and amourous locals
Languages – French and Arabic
Currency – Moroccan Dirham (MAD)
WiFi Availability – πŸ“ΆπŸ“ΆπŸ“ΆπŸ“ΆπŸ“Ά
Cafes with WiFi are everywhere. Most will give you the WiFi password without buying something, just check with them first, because some will be sneaky and try to charge you for it.
Transport – πŸš—πŸš—πŸš—πŸš—πŸš—
🚍 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.
πŸš‡ 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 – πŸ›£πŸ›£πŸ›£πŸ›£πŸ›£
All main roads, as well as suburban roads, are sealed and well maintained.
Scenery – πŸ”πŸŒ³πŸžπŸ–πŸœ
As the combined area of Morocco and Western Sahara is huge, it offers a great variety of scenery, from coastal plains in the west, to snow tipped mountains in the east, to tree-lined streets in the cities and moving desert sands in remote areas.
Prices – πŸ’°πŸ’°πŸ’°
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 do tend to get a little more expensive the closer you are to an area frequented by tourists. Marrakech and Casablanca, for example, are more expensive than places like Tanger and Agadir.
Checkpoints – πŸ›‘πŸ›‘
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 – πŸ›ƒπŸ›ƒπŸ›ƒπŸ›ƒ
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 – πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘

Even More Morocco

Settat
I caught up on some writing in a cafe near the station whilst waiting for my friend Khalid to come and get me. As I was leaving the cafe, the staff called out to Khaled to say that I had to pay, even though I’d only had some hot water. Apparently, they charge 11 dirhams (around EU$1) for using their WiFi, if you’re a tourist. This is specifically a Settat thing, as cafes in other places in Morocco will happily let you sit down and use the WiFi, but in Settat, they feel it’s okay to rip off tourists because they think they have money. Let’s not go down that rabbit hole right now.

Khalid later told me he’d had a similar experience at the same cafe before and it pretty much seems like they think they can get away with being a-holes because they have a reputation for having the best coffee in town. The things people do for coffee.

We hopped in a taxi to go to the district that I’d be staying in and after the taxi had driven off, I realised that my water bottle must’ve fallen out onto the seat. Unfortunately, we didn’t get the taxi number, so Khalid said we could check at the taxi changeover depot later in the day to see if it had been handed in.

Upon arriving at one of Khalid’s family’s homes (they have 2 in Settat), I was greeted with hugs and cheek kisses when I met some of Khalid’s family members. I guess this is the standard greeting for friends in Morocco. How sweet! After a small rest, we went to get some meat from the local butcher. Khalid’s family wouldn’t let me cook, or help them to cook. They insisted that because I was their guest, they had to take care of it for me. Instead, I drank some absolutely delicious fresh mint tea. I could get used to this!

Friendly neighbourhood butcher

After dinner, Khalid and I went for a walk up a hill to see the sunset and on the way up a couple of boys who were walking a dog called out to me. After they’d asked all the standard questions aimed at foreigners, one of the boys said that I had β€œbeautiful hairs”. 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.

Upon finding the depot closed, we walked to the main square to check out a local craftmaker fair that was happening, before searching some local shops for a small Moroccan flag to add to my collection. After walking around the town for a bit, we went back to the friendly butcher man to get some sirloin steak which was freshly cut for a miniscule fee and then cooked up for my dinner.

Schedule? What Schedule?
The next morning, after eating the breakfast that the family had so kindly prepared for me, we headed to the station, with a quick stop off at the taxi depot, which was only about 100m from the station. Unfortunately, my bottle wasn’t there, but there were a heap of other things like keys, bags and other miscellaneous things that had been left in taxis.

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.

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. This is Africa.

Marrakech

More Moroccan knowledge
– schedules really, really don’t mean a thing
– Moroccan families just can’t do enough for their guests

More Moroccan Adventures

Casablanca
As I’d missed out on food before the long bus ride, I tried to find a cafe where I could sit down for a meal, but it turns out that cafes in Casablanca only sell coffee, not food. Not even snacks. Besides that, they seemed to be filled with men just hanging out watching a world cup match. So I once again had to give up on my dreams of food and just use the WiFi instead.

Once online, I’d received a message from my host saying that he could no longer host me, so I madly tried to find another host and luckily a couple of Khalids I had been conversing with in the weeks prior to my trip came to the rescue.

The first Khalid, let’s call him Khalid no 1, tried to organise a car to drive the 70km from the town he was in, to pick me up, then drive 70km back to the 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. Once at his place I met his housemates, one of which was hilariously walking around dancing, instead of talking, whilst on a video call to his girlfriend.

After chatting with Khalid no 2, the other housemates and the girlfriend for a bit, Khalid drove me and one of his housemates around for food and a tour of the city which included the biggest mosque in Africa, Hassan II Mosque, as well as the beach area which is apparently where everyone, from partygoers, to families, to rose and toy sellers come out to play at night. The beachside promenade was lined with restaurants and clubs, although clubs seem to serve a slightly different purpose here 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.

The next morning, Khalid didn’t want to get up, so his friend drove me to the train station where I boarded a train for a short ride to a little town, 70 kilometres away, called Settat. Once I’d bought my ticket, I went to a small snack shop at the station to get some food before my trip and saw there were tacos available. They were just meat and vegetables wrapped in tortillas, which is a little bit different to the tacos I’m used too! I guess they don’t do Mexican food well in Morocco.

The train was not airconditioned, but I didn’t become aware of that until more than halfway through the journey, when the seat I was sitting in ended up 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!

Additional things I’ve learned about Morocco
– Moroccans will go out of their way to help someone in need
– Locals can’t comprehend having a meal without bread

First Taste of Morocco – The Port of Tanger

Tanger, Northern Morocco
After a super long 35 minute ferry ride from Spain, I arrived at the very sunny port town of Tanger, Morocco. 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 Tanger, of course. He let me continue on my way once I’d told him that I was meeting a friend in town, so that was nice. Then there were the familiar taxi calls on the way out and once I finally made it to the road outside the Tanger port, an older man stopped me because he thought that I looked lost. He gave me directions to the medina (city centre), then told me not to trust anyone. Thanks? I think.

Finding the bus I needed to catch to my friends place in the suburbs of Tanger proved to be a little more problematic than one would think. Firstly, it was almost impossible to find someone who understood English, as 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 accidently happened upon the correct bus stop, to my relief.

Happy that things in Tanger should start to get more simple from then on, I cheerily got on the bus when it arrived and told the driver where 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, but he still had no idea. So then a nice lady on the bus who knew a little English, 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 and thanks to a wonderful group effort, I was finally able to get to my destination.

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

Such a challenging and interesting day had left me exhausted, so I retired to bed to ready myself for the adventures to come.

The Challenges of Getting to Casablanca
I got myself back to the intercity bus station in the city centre, where I couldn’t walk two steps without someone trying to get me on their bus. It seemed that buses to Casablanca run extremely regularly, so I decided to walk around for a bit and maybe 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, but 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, so I went to a bank who had a problem with their system and couldn’t change currency at the time. I finally got to a bank that could change currency and they wouldn’t accept one of my notes, because it wasn’t new. Luckily I had more where that came from.

Back at the bus station I was again accosted by the first person upon entering, but 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!

To break up an otherwise long and boring bus ride, the bus stopped on the side of the highway for about 20 minutes while a woman argued with the bus staff because 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 siting 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 and therefore doesn’t speak it. He also revealed that he’d learnt all his English from watching television and movies, because the English taught at schools isn’t nearly good enough for use in the real world.

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