Thursday, 22 March 2012

Camped on the beach last night. Windy and lots of sea mist but we had a fire, Sue and Carolyn cooked, had a beer, and all went to bed early as we were dog tired. Cold start next morning but warmed up to super hot after a few hours. Bit of a news blackout for the next couple of days as its the dodgy bit ahead  - warzone and then kidnap alley so we will try not to advertise or presence too much. We’re banking on the fact that we’re too big a group for any chancers to seriously think about causing us problems though.
Rode about 430 km today, all very hot a dusty by the time we stopped. Camped on top of a cliff which was scarily high. Sheer drop into the ocean of about 30m. Let’s hope nobody sleepwalks tonight as we don’t have long enough bungees to rescue them. No wood for a bonfire but we were all tired again so another early night.
Crossed into Mauritania today. Up early and at the border crossing by 0900 but still plenty of vehicles in front of us. Never seen so much chaos – people pushing and shoving, cars everywhere, odd organisation ( or is it disorganisation?), and it took us 6 hours to cross. Then it was the mine field that is no mans land and separates the two countries. Only about 2km wide but exceptionally rough, but OK in the minefield stakes as we didn’t get blown up and all survived unscathed.
Got across the minefield Ok and into Mauri, stopped by police who quizzed us about contraband. We were about to be turned over when I engaged them in conversation, telling him that Gord and I were police from England. That stopped them in their tracks, the search was called off, they waved us through and we were on our way. Gave him an IPA badge too, which he was delighted with.
Didn’t ride far after that – just about 30 miles to a campsite where we slept on the floor in permanent Bedouin type tents. It was run by couple who were lovely. Peter and I got invited in for tea and had a great chat to them.
Had real problems with my neck and shoulder today. Made me feel very sick both while riding and walking and a minging headache later in the day. I’m drinking plenty but I think its the salts that are in short supply.
Visited the old couple again. Told us their life story – 5 kids, a goat who slept next to them, have lived there for 8 years because they like the peace and tranquillity. Gave them some British food out of the truck which they loved, and the lady asked us for socks. Good job we’d washed them last night then!
A few people are suffering in the heat although we,re drinking plenty and generally looking out for each other. Conditions are difficult, both physically and mentally, and all of us are finding some days  easier than others. We all knew it would be testing and have agreed a strategy of regular brief feed stops when we refuel and water top ups. That is far more manageable than busting a gut until we can go on no longer or until somebody has an accident. Working together like this also makes us more efficient and keeps us on track.
We rode long and hard today. Mauritania is noticeably different to Morocco and Western Sahara – trees and grass and opposed to just sand and rocks. People are a lot darker skinned too and again, very friendly and welcoming.
The air was scalding and the air was thick with sand. Reckon it was 40 degrees. Made it quite hard to ride. Now camped about 30 miles north of Nouakchott in the sand dunes, hidden from the road. Lets hope nobody discovers us!
Up extra early and off at first light. Truck got stuck in the sand, much to Iain’s delight, and he got to dig it out and use his sand ladders. Nobody kidnapped us, which is handy but we have a theory that we’re too filthy and too smelly for anybody to even consider it.  Maybe we should patent it as a survival method.
A bit cooler today which was nice. Long ride again today with many road miles before we got to the piste. The scenery was very different as we moved south – more trees and grass and dunes, lots of camels and small villages.
Then there was Nouakchott. It is really difficult to describe that place other than it was exactly as most of us expected Africa to be. Wild, chaotic, sandy, noisy, and everything coming from every direction, cattle, goats, robed people floating down the road looking like walking teabags as their robes billowed in the wind, sand all over the road. But it was great; what an experience. The place probably hasn’t changed for years, except for the cars. It was like a medeival movie set and was almost as if it had been CGI’d. Mad place, but once again, we brought it to a standstill as people gaped at us. We really are a ragtag bunch now. Bits hanging off the bikes a dishevaled assortment of riders covered in dust and all with dirt ingrained  and covered in grime. Even Mike (Captain Clean)is showing signs of grime, albeit nowhere near as much as the rest of us. What a spectacle we must be, and as foreign and intriguing to them as they are to us.
Then we got to the piste down to Diama. Ungraded road in places, unbuilt road in others, deep soft sand, loose gravel, and so so hot. We had 50 miles on this and it was hard. My confidence had gone after my last off roading outing landed me in hospital with a broken foot and ribs. That was until Nadine shouted at me and told me to get a grip. So I did, it all came back and I was soon coasting over the corrugations and through the soft sand.
Those C90s rock. They handled everything we threw at them and still came out shining. No major mechanic issues, no offs, not even a puncture. It was also through a National Park but the only animals we saw were domestic cows – one of which tried to kick Carolyn as she rode past but missed her, and a wild boar that thought about charging Nadine as she peed in the bushes. But he changed his mind when confronted with a gang of waiting mighty C90s.
Got to the Mauritanian/Senegal border and then it all stopped. For four hours. The Mauri side was chaotic but quieter than the previous Western Sahara border. Then we got into no mans’ land. It got dark, and it wasn’t  several hours later that we finally got into Senegal.
The difference between both countries was immediately obvious. Gone were the unmade gravel roads, in were the nicely tarmaced streets with neat villages en route. A thirty mile route with an escort, then a miles on dirt roads to the Zebra Bar.
What a fantastic place – but what a difficult ride. All too tired after the day on the piste and really not in a fit state to ride but we all made it in one piece without any mishaps.
How nice to have a proper bed  and one not filled with sand. And the really great news was that once fed ( delicious) we are to stay at the Zebra Bar for three nights – so no early pack up for several days, a few days off the bike, time to clean our kit and have a look around.
Got up late (0830), shower, late breakfast, washing, then kayaking  with Debz and Nadine to an island in the river. The current was so choppy that they paddled backwards down the river. Bizzare but funny. Water was a bit more choppy than we thought, but nobody drowned so that was OK.
Windy here but Ok in the sun but now it’s gone down, it’s a bit cool, which is actually nice after the heat of the desert.
General bike maintenance by Gordon, Iain and Mark but nothing too much amiss from yesterday. They even fixed the campsite workman’s bike in exchange for a bit of welding, so that was a win win.
No wifi signal here so typing up the blog and will post it in St Louis tomorrow. Just waiting for dinner.
Taken the local boat to St Louis and now sitting in a local patisserie (Mike, Sue, Belle, Gord, Nads) Two hours upstreamfrom the Zebra Bar in a small fishing boat type thing. All got drenched on the way but have now dried out.  Free WIFI here. and pizza.
Old French colonial town with dusty streets and African disorder but again, people are very welcoming and not fazed by nosey westerners wandering around. Lots of street activity and stuff going on at the roadside - food being prepared, things being carved, goats chewing assorted rubbish etc. Still can't upload photos - not sure why b ut it might be because of the slow network so have resorted to a glass of very nice rose instead. Just bought some local jewellery from a bloke in the bar - nice chap, have taken his picture and am about to send it to him.

Tomorrow we're leaving to get near to the Gambian border,  cross to Gambia the following day, then follow the Gambia River to Bansang and mission accomplished!! More from Bansang hopefully or (possibly before, at Eddie's) if there is Wifi.