We had our Michelin map and our compass and nothing was going to stop us exploring the desert”.
Charlie Curtis : 26th March

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Starting from their departure in London on 14th March 2009.
Europe 14th March
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25th March
26th March
30th March
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Senegal again!
8th April
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Click the photos to see the gallery of Mauritania

Click the photos to see the gallery of Mauritania

Click the photos to see the gallery of Mauritania

Click the photos to see the gallery of Mauritania

Click the photos to see the gallery of Mauritania

Click the photos to see the gallery of Mauritania

DIARY : Mauritania Imagery: ©2009 Terrametrics
Map data: ©2009 Europa Technologies

26th March

Having decided that we both wanted to get some real desert driving under our belts we set off for the Sahara Desert, heading towards the Banc D’Aguine national park on the coast.

We were of course advised by all the locals that we should take a guide as one can easily get lost and stuck in the vast expanse of sand. It just so happened they were all expert guides and ready to offer their services for the very reasonable price of $200 per day.

So we set off alone. We had our Michelin map and our compass and nothing was going to stop us.

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27th March : Mauritania

Failing to find the entrance to the park we simply veered off the highway into the dunes. Within 20 minutes we were out of sight of anything bar a few scrub bushes, some camels and a lot of sand.

The car drove beautifully. It coasted over the deep sand, drifting left and right as it struggled for traction, and bounced us somewhat painfully over the peaks and troughs of the scrub. Sure we got stuck a few times in deep drifts, but a combination of digging, sand ladders, low gears and most of all sweating in the sweltering sun always saw us through.

After about 5 hours we finally hit the coast in time to watch the sun drop into the sea in the horizon. And so we camped peacefully for the night hundreds of miles from anyone else.

At 10pm that night lights appeared from behind a dune followed by a considerable amount of shouting. The military patrolling the park for bandits (apparently this is a big problem) had spotted our camp fire and demanded to know why we were camped in an unsafe area. Unable to provide a satisfactory answer we were immediately escorted to the nearest military base for what promised to be a long night of questions and trouble. We arrived at the base to find the guards sitting in their barracks in the middle of the desert with AK-47s leant randomly against a wall while they sat and drank tea watching Steven Segal’s classic – Dangerous Ground. We joined them and spent the rest of the night drinking tea and trying to explain the intricacies of the plot to them in our broken French.

Thank god it wasn’t a Stallone film or we would have been in real trouble.

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29th March : Mauritania

From Mauritania’s capital Nouakchott, we set off for Senegal. We had been advised that the border crossing at Rosso was a real hassle and could take up to 5 hours so instead we headed for the smaller, more remote crossing point at Diamma. This involved taking a 50km ‘piste’, (read off road dirt track), through a national park. Unfortunately against all advice we hit this piste at about 10pm and so found ourselves cruising through the darkness. We were given an incredible show as the moon rose and the landscape around us came to life.

Monitor lizards slithered through the undergrowth into the mangroves and bright shining eyes belonging to creatures unknown watched us all the way. We were making fantastic progress until suddenly at about 11pm the car came to a sudden and abrupt halt. Stepping out onto the road I dropped about 2 feet as my foot and most of my leg sank into a thick black mud. Excellent!

It seemed that the piste really was off the beaten track. What followed was the most tiring and painful but yet strangely one of the most enjoyable experiences of the trip so far. Out came the spades and the digging began. Unfortunately as we dug the car sunk deeper until eventually the wheels were almost submerged and it was sitting on its axles. Out came the sand ladders. These fibre glass boards were just aching to be used. Unfortunately by this point the car had sunk so much that we just couldn’t dig deep enough to get them under the wheels. And so out came our trusty hi-life jack. Capable of lifting the car 5 feet in the air we laboriously freed one wheel at a time, placing a sand ladder underneath and letting the car sit back down on this more solid base. With some painfully slow and delicate reversing we were out; Covered in stinking mud, but out.

Just 10 km to get to the border; But 10 minutes later I was jolted by the biggest drop I have ever felt in a car. Wondering why we were pointing skywards we found that our unplanned little manoeuvre had taken us into a 3ft ditch across the road. The front wheels had bounced out, denting a steel rim and blowing a tire in the process, and our rear wheels were now stuck fast in the ditch. At 3 o’clock in the morning with no one within shouting distance we opened the tent and bedded down for the night. Come morning we were unceremoniously dragged from our resting place by a military patrol and limped to the border. We had bent our track rod and so our steering was almost non-existent. Within 5 minutes of reaching the border the car was up on rocks and the rod was hammered out and bent back into shape.

In just an hour, using our limited tools and a lot of force a group locals had done what would have taken a fully stocked garage the better part of a day. Their knowledge and better yet their willingness to help is something that I have never experienced anywhere else in the world. I cannot think of anywhere I would rather have such a breakdown than in Africa.

Oh and I should probably mention at this point in Mauritania we had offered a lift to a young French couple to also save them the hassles at the Rosso border. Finally crossing into Senegal 24 hours after we left; tired and covered in mud, they probably regretted ever having meeting us.

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30th March

Senegal is the real Africa. We watched a live band last night performing in the street with homemade instruments, surrounded by a huge gathering dancing to the music.

Heading for Dakar today to sort out visas for next stage.

31st March : Now in Saint-Louis.

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