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, “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 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.

🇲🇻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 – 🛣🛣🛣🛣
The main roads between cities are generally sealed and in decent condition. Within cities, there’s a mix of sealed and sandy roads, but most can be easily driven on without a 4WD.
Scenery – 🏜🏜🏜🏜🌳
Sand, sand and more sand! There’s no variance in the desert scenery at all until near the Rosso border in the south, where the odd tree or 2 starts to pop up.
Prices – 💰
Mauritania is great on a budget! I don’t recall paying more than 5MRU for anything I bought, unless it was from the cafe with the good wifi! You can buy around a kilogram of meat from a roadside BBQ for 4MRU (€1), or a bottle of water from a boutique (small store) for 1MRU (€0.25).
Checkpoints – 🛑🛑🛑🛑🛑
There were many checkpoints along intercity roads, but not all of them make you stop. To speed things up, it’s good to have several Fiche, or personal information sheets available to hand to the officers in lieu of your passport.
Border efficiency – 🛃🛃
Entering from the north was a complete disaster. There’s no signage to indicate where to go and you will spend a lot of time waiting, without knowing what you’re actually waiting for. The Rosso border in the south was much more efficient, but still not very well signposted.
Corruption level – While people I met in the country, spoke of corruption within the Mauritanian bureaucracy, no corruption aimed at travellers was evident.
Overall – 👍👍👍👍👍

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!

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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.

🇲🇦Morocco and Western Sahara Summary🇪🇭

Travels in Morocco and Western Sahara

In a few words – Tea and amourous 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, because 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 – 🏔🌳🏞🏖🏜
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 – 💰💰💰
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 – 🛑🛑
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 – 👍👍👍👍👍

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 “beautiful 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

Shenanigans in Sunny Spain

Marvellous Madrid
I’d finally made it to sunny Spain, so I joined a free walking tour of the city guided by a South African named Max. During the tour, I started talking to a Portugese guy named Pedro, who also happened to have the same name as a Brazilian guy on the tour. We spotted Mario, or at least an old Spanish man dressed up in a Mario costume. Within the blink of an eye, Spanish Mario was right next to us making poses and asking for photos and selfies together. It turns out that those poses come with an expected donation, but whatever, itsa Mario!

K in Motion Travel Blog. Shenanigans in Sunny Spain. Itsa Mario!

As we walked around Spain’s capital city, Max took us to many sites of interest and gave us a bit of background of events in the city over time. He even told us how the Bank Of Spain building was once home to over 500 tonnes of Moscow Gold. When we reached The Puerta de Alcalá in the Plaza de la Independencia, he informed us that it was ‘older and better’ than both the Arc de Triomphe in Paris and the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Shenanigans in Sunny Spain. Some Famous Gate in Madrid

After the walk was done, Pedro and I decided to get some lunch and while walking around searching for the perfect place, we happened upon a Tim Hortons. Pedro was so tickled by the idea of a coffee shop that doesn’t exist in Portugal, that he wanted to go in an try what they had on offer. I think he’s in love with Timbits now. After crushing our hunger with a well-earnt buffet lunch, Pedro and I parted ways.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Shenanigans in Sunny Spain. Eye Of The Tiger - orchestral style! in Madrid
Eye Of The Tiger – orchestral style!

It might be worth mentioning at this point that Madrid was celebrating their annual Pride Festival and the streets were positively buzzing. While walking along, I saw a Spanish string quartet rocking out their version of ‘Eye of the Tiger’ and I was invited to a make-up party, but eventually settled for some dancing in the streets with locals wearing pride flags as superhero capes. Good times.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Shenanigans in Sunny Spain. Pride Decorations in Madrid K in Motion Travel Blog. Shenanigans in Sunny Spain. Proud Potatoes in Madrid K in Motion Travel Blog. Shenanigans in Sunny Spain. Proud Cow in Madrid

Back at the hostel, I booked my bus ticket to Malaga in southern Spain then grabbed my gear ad headed to a local bar for an international meet. I had a great time talking to strangers from all over the world and wowing them with my awesome travel stories, but unfortunately, it had to end. I then headed to the bus station for my overnight bus to Malaga.

Modest Malaga
I arrived in Malaga bright-eyed and bushy-tailed after a wonderful sleep. Nah, not really! I was semi-awake and probably resembled something like a lost zombie. Of course, the best thing to do at that point was to head to a cafe to binge on sugar and internet, right?

Feeling a bit more alive after some food, I was ready to venture out into the hot city and see the sights. I found myself walking along a dry riverbed that led me to a cute area of the city centre, only accessible by pedestrians and the occasional delivery van. Strips of canvas had been hung from the roofs of the buildings all along the cobbled roads to shade people from the harsh sun. What a great idea!

K in Motion Travel Blog. Shenanigans in Sunny Spain. Modest Malaga Monument

Not far from that area, was a large inner city park between two busy roads, across from the port, complete with monuments and sculptured gardens. I sat on a shaded park bench for a while to take it all in. It’s surprising how easy it was to ignore the traffic buzzing on either side when surrounded by nature. Especially the birds in the nearby trees that seemed to be squawking loudly in an attempt to be heard over the throng of the traffic.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Shenanigans in Sunny Spain. Modest Malaga Buildings K in Motion Travel Blog. Shenanigans in Sunny Spain. Modest Malaga Inner City Park

I ended up getting back to the station an hour early as I’d overestimated the time it would take me to walk back, so I went to a ‘cafeteria’ across the road from the station, Los Villares, and was immediately impressed that the video for Smells Like Teen Spirit was playing as I entered. I sat down to eat my egg and bacon special while the 90s video hits continued to play. It was a pretty good way to waste that extra hour!

The only thing left to do was get myself on a bus headed for the Talifa port at the southern tip of Spain, via Algericas, where I’d hop on a ferry for a short ride to start my next adventure.. in Morocco, Africa!

K in Motion Travel Blog. Shenanigans in Sunny Spain. Talifa Port Building K in Motion Travel Blog. Shenanigans in Sunny Spain. Talifa Port and Sun K in Motion Travel Blog. Shenanigans in Sunny Spain. Leaving Talifa Port

🇪🇸Spain Summary🇪🇸
In a few words – Sunny and colourful
Language – Spanish and English
Currency – Euro (EUD)
WiFi availability – 📶📶📶📶📶
Good WiFi is easy to find
Transport
I didn’t try any inner city transport in Spain as I prefer to walk. Intercity transport is lovely and airconditioned, but probably more expensive than it should be. A 5 hour trip could cost the better part of €100
Roads – 🛣🛣🛣🛣🛣
All roads in Spain are smooth and well maintained
Scenery – 🌳⛰🌳🏞🌳
Spanish cities have a lot of green spaces and the countryside is full of rolling green hills.
Prices – 💰💰💰
Most things seem to be reasonably priced in Spain, but transport, although comfortable, is a bit overpriced
Border efficiency – 🛃🛃🛃🛃🛃
Entering and exiting Spain was quick and easy
Overall – 👍👍👍👍👍