Lost in the mine field of no-mans land!

Trip Start Sep 03, 2010
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Trip End Oct 27, 2010


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Flag of Mauritania  , Dakhlet Nouadhibou,
Friday, October 8, 2010

We eventually managed to cross the border into no-mans land, a 3km strip of land that practically belongs to no-one and that separates Morocco and Mauritania. No law exists here. Due to previous conflicts between the 2 countries this strip has been heavily mined. Its littered with abandoned cars and possibly blown up ones by the looks of it. Some very rough and bumpy tracks guide to the Mauritanian border. The sun has just gone down as we leave the Moroccan border. I'm in awe as i observe the scene in the twilight that is left. Its a very bumpy ride. Halfway i can see the Mauritanian post with its lights every now and then over the small bumps of desert. Its straight straight ahead but we turn right somehow and i follow Jay reluctantly. He has done this track so many times i think to myself.. Off we drive and the tracks are becoming much fainter, not just because of the darkness that is quickly settling in..

 I look left after a while and somehow i can see that the border lights are now some 120 degrees to the left. Thats bad news as it means we are way off to where we should be. In 2007 a Nissan patrol went astray and hit an anti-tank mine killing one person and leaving the other seriously injured. I radio Jay about our erroneous position and this is confirmed by the tracks fading out. It is now pitch black. We reluctantly decide to turn around on what is left of the track that vaguely marks a safe area to pass over. Its nerve wrecking as the vehicles are long pick-ups and we are forced to touch unknown territory with the tyres. We manage somehow and try to hunt the track that takes us back. We stop several times not knowing where to go exactly. I haven't slept well in the last days and this is really putting both to the test. I find what looks like a faint path just as Jay wants to go in another direction. I somehow convince him over the radio and we follow on. I get stuck in some thick sand. Jay keeps ahead unbeknown of my situation. I engage low ratio 4x4 but my front wheels are free wheeling... only solution is to get out of the car and lock both the tyres. By this time my batteries in my radio have run out and Jay doesn't know my whereabouts.. what a crazy moment. I get out bare foot to probe the sand so i can feel anything metal if that helped at all! Jay has turned around to find me by the time im wheeling out. Its back on track and 2 guys approach us in a battered car posing as guides. The soldiers at the post sent them over as they were closing the border and saw 2 cars headlights driving around all over the place. They lead us out and we finally arrive relieved and Joyful. The border guards certainly aint happy as they were meant to have closed the border an hour ago plus they had to wait for some crazy tourists to get out of the mine field. We get a small bollocking but smooth the guards with some "cadeaux" (presents).

Its the usual stupid formalities with the paperwork and a Mauritanian guy with a Mercedes with Spanish number plates is very anxious for us to follow him all the way to the capital, Nouakchott in the darkness. We don't trust him and avoid him. Its pitch black and we need somewhere to stay. I'm tired and my nerves have taken a beating. To make things worse we don't have radios. We decide to head down to stop at the first Auberge we see. I follow Jay down the road and i notice that approaching cars will flash their lights and indicate in the inside lane. Worse than Morocco.

We find a place after a good couple of kilometres in the middle of nowhere. While Jay is talking to the owners about prices some over anxious children approach the car and pester me. I'm really tired and stressed and cant really handle the situation well..We inspect a tent but choose a sheltered home with a corrugated roof. Its quite cosy actually. The owner kindly invites us for some mint tea. Its Heinz tinned spaghetti for supper and afterwards i have a cold "shower" with a bucket of water. Quite a relief actually. Its off to bed to get some sleep. Halfway through the night im woken up by a loud, deep rumble as if a huge jumbo jet is taking off. I realise that its the Iron ore train, the longest in the world. The racket of its powerful engine is multiplied by the deserted surroundings and night-time silence. I go outside for a pee and notice that the sky is incredible, there is no moon and the stars stand out so much that i can see my surroundings quite clearly!

In the morning im greeted by the barren emptiness of the desert. We get ready to head off to Nouakchott. The owner, an elderly lady proudly shows us her little garden fenced off with a tall mud wall. She has everything growing in there and am surprised how she can manage to grow a selection of vegetables in the middle of the desert. There are carrots, turnips, onions, wild salad, tomato's etc. Quite a feat and no wonder she was so anxious to show us. She asks what the name for each plant is in English. We set off down the road and the sun is beating down. After a good few kilometres Jay suddenly pulls over and gets out with his camera. I'm wondering what the hell is going on! Its the Iron ore train again and we just manage to catch it.

Back on the road again and i cant help notice how green the desert is. There is lots of wild grass everywhere and Jay has never seen the desert here as green as this. Quite a nice sight as the green colours mix well with the yellow/orange sand dunes.

Half-way down and we pull over. It turns out we are at the entrance to the biggest national park in the world, the banc d'arguin. Its a major stopping place for all birds migrating between the seasons. We ponder whether to take the chance and cross it halfway or drive down to Nouakchott and then attempt the next day. I'm quite reluctant to go unprepared but i decide otherwise. Im so glad i did...it actually turned out to be a major highlight of the trip. We fill all our water bottles from a tap at a nearby petrol station. I'm uneasy about its potability but there's a saying in the desert that says "don't refuse an offer of water in the desert as it may be your last".

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