Gambia

K In Motion Travel Blog. Near Soma, Gambia

Entering Gambia From Northern Senegal

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

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

Crossing the Gambia River from Barra to Banjul

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

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

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

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

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

K in Motion Travel Blog. Banjul, Gambia

Getting to Brikama

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

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

K In Motion Travel Blog. Brikama, Gambia

Heading to the Mountains?

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

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

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

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

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

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

K In Motion Travel Blog. Walking Near Soma, Gambia

Exploring Soma

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

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

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

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

Making Mountains out of Molehills

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

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

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

Crossing the Border from Gambia to Southern Senegal

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

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

🇬🇲Gambia Summary🇬🇲

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

Check out more of the overland adventures from North to West Africa:
The Port of Tanger
Northern Morocco
Southern Morocco and Western Sahara
Mauritanian Coast to Capital on the Iron Train
The Mauritanian Capital, Nouakchott and Beyond
Super Social Senegal
Gambia
Southern Senegal
Guinea-Bissau
Guinea
Sierra Leone
Liberia
Côte d’Ivoire
Ghana
Togo
Benin

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Super Social Senegal

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

Welcome to Senegal! Give Me Money

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

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

Playing the Game

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

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

Finding Transport in Super Social Senegal

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

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

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

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

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

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

Colourful Clothing

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

On the Road Again in Super Social Senegal

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

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

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

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

Dakar – The Capital of Super Social Senegal

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

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

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

Walking Around Dakar

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

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

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

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

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

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

Getting to the Border

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

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

Life’s a Beach

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bus Swap

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

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

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

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

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Things To Know About Mauritania

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

3 Important things to Know About Mauritania

Travel Warnings

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

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

Currency

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

Fiche

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

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

2 Cultural Things to Know About Mauritania

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

Men’s Thoughts On Women

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

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

Entering and Exiting – 2 Things to Know About Mauritania

Entering From The North

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

Exiting in the South

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

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

2 Logistical Things to Know About Mauritania

Dust

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

Sand, anyone?

Getting Around

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

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The Mauritanian Capital, Nouakchott and Beyond

K in Motion Travel Blog, Nouakchott, Mauritania

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

The Mauritanian Capital Nouakchott

No one was rushed or stressed in Nouakchott. They were very excited about the French world cup win though. Whilst walking around the town with my host Liz, we were lucky enough to witness the pure spectacle and hilarity of crazy French expats in the city hanging out of the sunroof of their car. There was some proud flag waving and yelling in French. The sound of constant beeping horns could be heard for many hours after the victory. Excited locals would also feel the need to shout “FRANCE!” as they passed us hanging out of car windows.

We settled ourselves into a hotel lobby for shelter from the heat and world cup shenanigans. With an added bonus of fast wifi and some refreshing fruit drinks. It appeared that our server, Abdoul had taken a liking to us. After a bit of flirting he informed us that our bill had been taken care of. How unexpected!

Being Social

When Liz and I finally made it home in the evening, we were greeted by Anna and David. They are the couple that I had met at the Mauritanian border a couple of days earlier! We all headed out to a poolside feast at Liz’s friend’s place. An excited dog came out to say hello when we arrived, followed by Sidi, our host for the night. Sidi is first and foremost a Mauritanian, with a great love for his country. He has also spent an extensive amount of time living in other countries. This gives him a very unique and interesting worldview.

Sidi also happens to be the first person I’ve met on my travels who’s also enjoying the Keto lifestyle. That was great for me because I was able to try some local delicacies without the sugar! The dog made itself comfortable under the table, where it could easily get cuddles and scratches from everyone. Meanwhile. We chatted about everything from politics and corruption to drainage. Anna and Sidi have both worked on projects involving drainage, so that’s how that topic came up. Just in case you were wondering! A great time was had by all. I can’t think of a better way to end a cruisy but crazy day in a mellow city!

Yellow Fever Vaccine Adventure in the Mauritanian capital Nouakchott

As I’d been previously unsuccessful in obtaining the Yellow Fever Vaccine, required for entry into some countries I intended to visit, it was time to try to get it in the Mauritanian capital Nouakchott. First, we went to a pharmacy. It looked very clean and professional. They said they could administer the vaccine, but couldn’t provide the international vaccination certificate. They informed us that the only place that could issue the certificate was the clinic at the national public vaccination centre.

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

While we were waiting, we noticed a very old poster on the wall issued by the World Health Organisation. It hilariously depicted animals with ‘La Rage’ or rabies. It warned, in a most dramatic and amusing fashion, of the dangers of La Rage and how to deal with it.

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

After waiting for a while, a grumpy old doctor wearing a ‘China Medical Team’ lab coat approached us. He had spent the last 10 minutes walking in and out of the room making and taking phone calls on his mobile while wearing surgical gloves. He asked what I was doing there and where I’d come from. When his questions were answered, he started yelling about me living in a ‘rich country’ wasting their resources by getting the vaccine there. Alrightly then.

Most people in the room, including us, were wondering what was going on. We went into the injection room, where the nurse was, to ask him about it. He told us not worry, that the guy was “just like that” and he wasn’t even a doctor. Well, that was a relief. Shortly after I got the jab and with a hastily written doctor’s note, I was off to another room to get the certificate.

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

Of course, there was more waiting involved to get the certificate and the cashier didn’t have any change, so instead of €1, I paid €1.2! Still better than the $100+ charged in other countries with only limited supplies!

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

As with everything in Africa, this process had been longer than expected, so feeling super accomplished that we’d achieved such an epic feat, we pigged out on roadside BBQ meat.

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

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

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

Later in the day, I decided to go down to the beach area to check out the fishing boats that the locals take out to the sea. Unfortunately, this required a walk through a very dirty, smelly fish market area.

K in Motion Travel Blog, Nouakchott, Mauritania
Fish Market

The boats all looked very old and very well used, but also very colourful. I watched a huge group of men trying to launch one of them into the choppy sea for a few minutes and it seemed like it was much harder than you’d think. I guess they eventually managed to get on their way, but I didn’t hang around to find out.

K in Motion Travel Blog, Nouakchott, Mauritania
Boaty Beach

Getting to the Rosso Border

It turns out that Anna and David were also heading to Senegal at the same time as me, so we all decided to go together and make it an early start, so we could get to our destinations at reasonable times. The process of getting a taxi to the bus station was relatively easy because we had a local there to help us. Unfortunately, we’d just missed the 7 am van because it was already full by the time we got there at 06:50.

We got our tickets for the next van, due to leave at 08:00. We then sat under a canvas shelter and waited. The 7 am bus didn’t leave until about 07:15, so we resigned ourselves to the fact that our van probably wouldn’t depart on time. That made it all the more surprising when the driver ushered us into the van and started the journey about 20 minutes before the scheduled time. I’m sure that’s not something that happens in Africa much!

Before I’d gotten to Mauritania, I was aware of the Fiche (personal information sheet) requirement for police checkpoints along the road. I’d only used one of these on my journey of over 1000km through the rest of the country. I had to part with 4 of them in the 200 odd kilometres to the Rosso border. At least having them available made passing through the checkpoints a breeze.

Chaos at the Rosso Border

Upon entering the Rosso border area, people crowded around the van that we were in before it had even come to a complete stop. A wonderful Senegalese man in the van with us had already warned us that people would be in our faces there. He told us to ignore everyone and stick with him. Just as well we did because the place was very confusing. We were still about 500m from the border, but there were absolutely no signs to indicate where the immigration point was.

K in Motion Travel Blog, Rosso, Mauritania
Rosso

Our Senegalese friend was also a bit confused and had to enlist the services of a local to help us get to the right place. First, there was a building where we had to show our passports and then get some tickets. Normally you’re required to pay for these tickets, but apparently we had the right person with us to get us through without paying.

K in Motion Travel Blog, Rosso, Mauritania
Border tickets

Behind the first building was an open area that looked more like a market than an immigration area. We had to walk across this area to get to the window where our exit from Mauritania would be processed. As we were standing at the window waiting for our passports to stamped, sellers were constantly approaching us to try to get us to buy their stuff. Some of them weren’t taking no for an answer and needed to be shooed away by the local helping us.

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

Who knew exactly what was happening on the other side of the window where we submitted our passports for inspection, but whatever was going on in there was taking a very long time! It would have taken at least 30 minutes for our documents, all 3 of them, to be checked. It seemed almost like an eternity.

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

As Mauritania and Senegal are separated by the Senegal River, we had 2 choices for getting across. There was a free ferry, which was very slowly making its way back from the other side, or a small wooden canoe that would leave straight away and have us on the other side in a short few minutes, for around €2. We opted for the canoe.

??Mauritania Summary??

Travels in Mauritania

In a few words – Dust, tea and friendly locals
Languages – French, Arabic and local languages
Currency – Mauritanian Ouguiya (MRU)
WiFi Availability – ????
WiFi is available if you know where to look, but it can be quite slow.
Transport – ????
? Taxis are available, but the zone system can be confusing without the help of a local.
? Vans are also available for intercity routes, but they do not seem to be made with passenger comfort in mind.
? If you’re adventurous, you could travel hundreds of kilometres for free on the iron ore train that departs daily from Nouadhibou to Choum (empty), or Choum to Nouadhibou (full).
Roads – ????
Main intercity roads between are in decent condition. Within cities, there’s a mix of sealed and sandy roads, but most can be easily driven on without a 4WD.
Scenery – ?????
Sand, sand and more sand! You could see a tree or two in the south.
Prices – ?
Mauritania is great on a budget! I don’t recall paying more than 5MRU for anything I bought, unless it was from the cafe with the good wifi! You can buy around a kilogram of meat from a roadside BBQ for 4MRU (€1), or a bottle of water from a boutique (small store) for 1MRU (€0.25).
Checkpoints – ?????
There were many checkpoints along intercity roads, but not all of them make you stop. To speed things up, it’s good to have several Fiche, or personal information sheets available to hand to the officers in lieu of your passport.
Border efficiency – ??
Entering from the north was a complete disaster. No signage and a ridiculous amount of waiting. The Rosso border in the south was much more efficient, but still not very well signposted.
Corruption level – While people I met in the country, spoke of corruption within the bureaucracy, no corruption aimed at travellers was evident.
Overall – ?????

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Mauritanian Adventure – Coast to Capital on the Iron Train

Crossing into Mauritania

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

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

Maritanian Adventure at the Border

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

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

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

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

Dude, Where’s Our Van?

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

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

More Rooms?

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

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

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

The Mauritanian Adventure Continues in The Little Town of Nouadhibou

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My New Train Buddy

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

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

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

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

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

Unscheduled Stops

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

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

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

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

Mauritanian Adventure After Dark

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

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

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

Atar

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

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

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

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

Atar to Nouakchott

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

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

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

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

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A Local Experience in The Port of Tanger in Northern Morocco

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

The Port of Tanger

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Drama on the Side of the Road

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

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

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

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

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