Sand , blisters, digging and flat tyres

Trip Start Mar 07, 2009
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13
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Trip End Ongoing


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Flag of Mauritania  ,
Sunday, April 12, 2009

Mauritania is a country of sand and more sand with the Sahara desert dominating the landscape. We left the capital of Noatchott and headed due west into the Sahara. The ancient and elusive town of Oulata is to be our destination. This town is in the middle of nowhere in eastern Mauritania. Hundreds of years ago it was the last staging post for the old camel caravans as they headed to Timbuktu. Nowadays its a mythical destination that sees almost no tourists, we wanted to be part of this elusive group to visit the place. We knew it would be hard going but we wanted to give it a go.

After leaving the Capital the first couple of days we headed through the sand dunes and Sahal country. Sahal is the area bordering the Sahara desert. Its also know as the dry Savannah or transition zones. It was a couple of days before we made it to the remote town of Nema, camping along the way. Some of the camps were shared with camels and donkeys. One particular night was entertaining when a donkey entered the camp with the call of "eeeeh owwwwrrr". One of the guys, Ron returned the call, much to everybody's amusement...

After a couple of days in 40 plus degrees heat we made it to Nema and the turn off to Oulata. One kilometre out of town and we were bogged for the first time. 45 minutes later we were out, but 10 minutes later we were stuck again on a dry river crossing, this time it was 2 hours to dig the truck out. At this time it was 6pm so time to camp for the night and be joined by the local camels as they camel train passed by our camp. Now we know we are in the Sahara.....

The 100 kilometers to Oalata should take a day. We knew we would be in for some soft sand so we planned on being up at 4am to take advantage of the cold sand conditions. When the sand is cold it bonds together better and makes it easier to travel on, when its hot the air particles expand and make it softer and therefore easier to get stuck. Well, that's the theory. It was not long before we were stuck in the sand in the middle of a small unknown village. 4 hours later we were out of the bog, but not before running out of water. John became the human donkey, hauling the water from the nearby well. Lucky as we would have been in trouble without the water refill. At this point we are drinking about 5-7 litres of water per day and its above 40 degrees everyday. To experience this kind of heat imagine being covered by fine sand on every part of your body then turn on the oven and stick your head inside. Its beyond any explanation. After traveling only 78 kilometers, not all in the right direction we made camp. 12 hours on the road today and everybody was exhausted. Early to bed for an early start again.

The following day and we made it only a couple of kilometres before hitting an impenetrable dune field. After a short walk the decision was made not to go any further, it was now midday, we were about 20 kilometers short of the village. The sand dunes were too soft and too numerous to go ant further. It could take weeks to get any further.
The decision is made that we need to turn around and go back, the Sahara Desert has beaten us, but not disappointed us. We stayed here for several hours to rest and wait till the late afternoon when the sand is cool before driving through the night.

In the middle of the day I went for walk through the dunes and was amazed at the extent of them. They were endless. I did see a Desert Fox or Jackal run away as I climbed a sand dune. The heat is now unbearable and the sweat is no longer able form on any part of the body, it evaporates too quickly.

At sunset we headed off and made some good progress. By 11pm we are stuck in some soft sand and the call comes out from Chris and Gary, "Tents up". Sleep comes quickly for us all.

The next morning we are in Nema in only a couple of hours. This time we took the easy road. It has to be noted that we have now destroyed a total of 8 tyres on this trip. Tyre changing is now and easy job for the few people who get their hand dirty. The shops in Nema make some good money from us all as we buy all the cold drinks that the town can supply us with. The work civilisation is relative but compared to the nothing that we had over the previuos days we could not be happier.

Now its time to leave the Sahara and head to Mali.
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