Day 37: Across a lunar scrapyard

Soutpiel Safari
John & Jenny
Sat 11 Dec 2010 21:36
Day 37: Saturday 11 December 2010. Camping Chez Abba, Nouadhibou, Mauritania. N20 54.519 W017 02.217. Distance driven 203 km
It was so tranquil sleeping by the sea that we overslept, but still managed to be on the road by 0815, driving through an ever changing arid desert landscape. We passed though dune country, desolate rocky plains, sebkahs (salt flats) and areas of sparse vegetation, sometimes with sea views. 60 km north of the border we refuelled with the last of the cheap diesel and pressed on for the frontier. For 200 km there were very old and rusty signs by the roadside indicating the danger of unexploded mines.  The state of the signs gave us little confidence in the French statement "In course of mine clearance"!
The Moroccan frontier is separated from the Mauritanian frontier by 5 km of "no-mans-land".  It took us four and a half hours to transit the two borders - two and a half hours for Morocco, half an hour for the transit and one and a half hours for Mauritanian crossing. The Moroccan frontier was absolute chaos and lacked any system or order, especially in Customs. Most of the delays seemed to be caused by Moroccans leaving the country with cars registered in the name of someone other than the driver! Every official in the process blatantly asked for presents, cadeaux, bon-bons, alcohol, cigarettes, money, etc but most were satisfied with a few dates, sweets, or minor items. When we thought that we were good to go we found there was an additional "military" check point where an official laboriously copied out the details of our passports into a ledger.
The drive across no-mans-land was surreal. The "road" was a very rough track which twisted and turned between pot-holes and craters; it didn't bother the Land Rover but was a real problem for ordinary cars and campers.  There was a strong wind blowing sand across this barren landscape and the amazing thing was that there were hundreds of wrecked and apparently abandoned cars littering the area!  Just beyond the Moroccan frontier there were dozens of touts offering to change money and what else we didn't stop to enquire!  It was an amazing scene.
I must say that the Mauritanian process was far superior and more orderly than that of Morocco and were passed through quickly.  We bought Mauritanian insurance - 10 days for 15 Euros and away we went on a good tarmac road again but still in a sandstorm.  On the way into Nouadhibou we passed the iron ore train that Michael Palin claims is the longest in the world but we rated it a a poor second to the South African iron ore train from Sishen to Saldanha. We stopped to photograph it across the sand dunes with sand blowing everywhere.
As we drove into Nouadhibou it looked like a scene from after the nuclear holocaust -  derelict houses, litter everywhere, wrecked and rusted cars littering the streets and more sand blowing through the streets.  At least the campsite had hot showers and we were well sheltered from the wind.