Wroclaw – Dakar



29th December 2008

After weeks of preparations, logistics, improvements to the car and vaccination that would have been an overdose even for a racing horse we are finally getting close.

The trip is seriously delayed. By now we should swim with the dreadful spindly killer fish off Cameroonian shore and play hide-and seek with a cheetah.

We have been spending that long cold winter days sorting out the remaining issues with the car and doing some hardware shopping. Szopen – our mutual friend – joins us with a bottle of whiskey in the late evening to bid the farewell. We are too tired to lift the glasses as keenly as Szopen so we settle for moving the far lighter chess pieces. We are hoping to departure on the very next day but the car is still in the garage so the mechanics are dealing the cards, literally, by the looks of it.

30th and 31st December looks pretty much the same but no more farewells or playing chess.

1st January 2009

We were so busy with packing the car that we did not notice when the New Year had passed.

Not concerned about the festive night we set off just after midnight from our base camp in Rościsławice. Just one quick pit stop in Wrocław for a late glass of bubbly and warm goodbye hugs from Pyza and we are on the road.

The first part of the trip is to go through Europe as quickly as possible to make up for the lost time. It’s over 3000 km on the motorway but we should make it quickly just by force of the driving habit.

100 km into the trip, just before the German border in Jędrzychowice we both get seriously sleepy but thanks to our spirit of fortitude we refrain from camping.

Our car is well equipped with two tanks (room for 200 liters of diesel in total) so we could drive long distances in Africa. Bizarrely we hit the first diesel shortage in Germany. 1st January is a global “hangover” day so nothing is open. Besides our Landy is quite thirsty – taking 15 liters of diesel to each 100 km. 120 km/hr in such car makes the tank go whirl.

 

2nd January 2009

After constant driving, sleeping and changing behind the wheel without stopping we got to Gibraltar around 10pm. Just on time to catch the last ferry from Tarifa to Tanger. €177 one way ticket seems like a bargain.

The crossing takes 45 minutes so we make ourselves horizontally comfortable on the passenger deck. Two days of driving takes its toll and we are sound asleep in no time. We miss the Moroccan custom officer who was stamping the passports. Although nothing can deflate our spirits once we touch the African land just after midnight – the Moroccan customs remind us how difficult jobs they do and they make sure they get paid extra for that.

 

3rd January 2009

Our Landy shows the signs of fatigue. It makes different noises and gets wobbly at low rpm.

Then our eyelids get wobbly and all we manage on our first day in Africa is scrappy 100 km before we give up to the looming sleepiness .

Five hours later on the morrow we have a coffee and crap breakfast which set the rhythm for the day.

Quick welcome from Moroccan kids playing on the side of the road throwing a stone at us. The first dent in our still new Landy gives it more character so – no hard feelings – if you read this you little ba***rds!

We give Casablanca a miss and drive without stopping through the center of Marrakesh towards Atlas mountains. Very narrow and curvy roads take us to 2200m a.s.l. where we decide to set up our first real camp.

 

4th January 2009

-5C gets us out of the tent at 7am. While packing our stuff a curious guy appears from nowhere – and it really is – a middle of a very big nowhere. He has a good laugh seeing two pro-looking campers being unable to pack the tent back into its original bag. Well, besides being unable to bend our frozen fingers it is also our first experience with Quechua tent.

On the way down we stop by in a little mountain inn. A guy dressed as the Jedi knight makes us a warm-up coffee. In a better shape we refill the water tank from a roadside stream and drive west to Tarfaya – a small fishing village by the ocean.

In the evening we book into a hotel and have our first night in Africa under a proper roof. €30 for the room seems a bit steep but you don’t expect a bargain from the only decent hotel in town. Fried fish with a piece of bread bought on the street do the dinner trick.

 

5th January 2009

Luckily we ordered the breakfast the night before from the only English speaking person in the reception. Watching a man, trying in vain to order something to eat in his native English, makes us invite him to share the spread we have on the table. Trevor, a 77 years old Englishman and a recycled backpacker as he calls himself travels by public transport around Morocco with his little rucksack and a big leather luggage which surely have seen sixties.

Before our departure I manage to do some IT work which involves fixing the sound on the reception computer so the receptionist can not only watch but also hear Al Jazeera news channel.

Now we are cruising through Western Sahara pleasurably refilling our tank.

100 litres for €40 which is surely the cheapest diesel in the world!

Further south we see first dromedaries (single-humped camels) – not only strolling in the desert but also riding at the back of a pickup. Little do we know at this point how handy it can be when it gets really sandy.

As we keep driving the Police check-points become more and more frequent. Every time they jot down our passport and car details and ask about our occupation.

Our first words in French we mainly pick up from the policemen. The most important one is “kadou” which will keep us company from now on.

We considered Morocco and Western Sahara as the “getting there” part of the trip so we maintain our daily mileage as high as our spirits.

We arrive in Dakhla at midnight. The two hotels we’ve seen do not appeal to us (in value for money terms) and we settle for a kind of surfer campsite at the nearby bay.

 

6th January 2009

We wake up at 8am and have a quick look over the bay. Today we are heading for the Mauritanian border.

The rocky desert slowly changes into a massive sandpit. Either the jetlag or the sound of the diesel engine gives us both a slight headache. We are in hurry to get to the border before sunset but we still have enough time to turn right into the widest beach ever and take a nice walk along the shore.

All border formalities to leave the Morocco take us only 2 hours. We cross the barriers and… and we drive into a rocky desert with burnt cars scattered around. Scenery straight from Mad Max movie.

In fact this no man’s land between is a dirty and bumpy track for around 6-7 kilometres packed with land mines.

All sweaty (for more reasons than just the heat) we get to the Mauritanian barriers.

The first question from the customs is if we have a computer on us. Hearing YES they ask if we could give it to them as “kadou”. Not a good start but we get away with giving them a wallet from our well prepared gift box.

We have to wait for the border official to finish the prayers. Mauritanian Visa is €20 each. Przemek gives a €50 note and the officer put it into a massive drawer full of money shutting it with a big bang. We know immediately that there is no change. Police formalities take 10 minutes and cost €10 for all the hard work. We get the car insurance (additional €15) and we are free to go.

The first Mauritanian city when coming from north is Nouadhibou. On the road we meet French couple with 2 kids in Landrover Defender 130 – exactly the same model as us. We drive together to a campsite which we have in our well prepared notes.

The French family plans to go around Africa in 18 months and they give us a suspicious look when we mention our 3-month plan to do the same. No Vodafone coverage in Mauritania whereas Era has full reception.

 

7th January 2009

Our first flat tyre was bound to happen. Fortunately, God who sends the puncture also sends the air compressor – neatly installed at the back of our Landy.

8am is too early to get the breakfast but we manage to wake up the coffee bar owner who sleeps on the floor between the tables.

We leave town around 9am. Plan for the day is to drive east, along the border through the desert to Atar. It is 500 km off-road and we immediately get stuck in the sand. Only 3 hours later are we free again but this time we precociously drive on the railway. This is a proper bumpy ride – our first real taste of Africa and test for our Landy.

After 12 hours on the road we stop beneath what it seems in the moonlight like a massive rock. We know that somewhere around here should be so-called monument.

No tent that night as there are still land mine signposts around.

 

8th January 2009

Sleeping in the car is usually short and gives cramps so I use the opportunity to record the sunrise in the desert. Once the sun is up the monument looks spectacular. It is 300 meters high and made of very smooth rock rising from the desert. We drive around it passing a place with dozens of camel skeletons which seems like a natural cemetery.

After breakfast we are back on the railway only occasionally giving way to the trains that are approaching. From Atar there is still 435 km left to the capitol – Nouakchott but the road gets better.

In Nouakchott it is difficult to find a campsite or a hotel but we manage to get a crap room for $30. The only reason we stay here is to get Mali visa.

 

9th January 2009

Quick packing and we are off to the Malian embassy. On place we met Swiss couple who told us that we need more paperwork. We go into market area in the centre to make photocopies of the passports and change money. Now we know a bit about doing quick money exchange with dodgy people in nukes and crannies of an Arab market.

Back at embassy we fill in the applications, pay 13000oggs for 2 visas and wait till 1.30pm. I’m killing the time with Shantaram and Przemek serves sandwiches made with the sausage brought from Poland. The sausage was getting green and moist so we’ve been drying it off on our car bonnet for the last 4 days in the desert.

Only 204 km to the Senegal border in Rosso and then 160 km more down a dirty track to the other border which “apparently” is more friendly.

When we get there it’s already quite late 8pm and we are the only people crossing.

Leaving Mauritania is quite easy but it costs us $15 for car’s CPD stamps. 

It’s annoying with the made-up fees so from now on – no more bribes and funny expenses.

In that spirit we cross drive over the bridge to the Senegal border.

The first guy who approaches us asks for €10 to open the barriers – a kind of a bridge toll. As agreed before we are not paying. We are stubborn but after two hours of negotiations with all the people involved in border crossing we need to surrender. We end up going with one of the bridge guys to St. Louis (32 km) to get the money (which we hypothetically don’t have on us) from the cash point. However, when we cross the border we hand over €75 which is the total border bill. This leaves the guy speechless for the rest of the journey.

In St. Louis a nice lady leads us to a campsite on the beach. The directions and the nice scent of perfume in the car are worth the $10.

Przemek is unwell. Surely he has surreptitiously eaten the best part of the desert-dried Krakowska while making the sandwiches in the car. He dozes off in the car and I pitch the tent on the beach.

He is much better when he wakes up in the tent the following morning.

My mobile reception is back but funnily enough Przemek’s mobile stops working.

 

10th January 2009

8am on the beach. We found the first mosquito in the tent which is a reminder for our malaria medication. We meet British couple travelling in 25 years old Landy 110. Nice couple who have been on the road since 10th November.

266 km to Dakar so we stopped on the way for coffee in a VERY local roadside bar. We had our previously bought melon for breakfast and the leftovers were given to the kids looking at us from the distance. Driving into Dakar took us 2 hours in a heavy traffic.

We got to the airport just on time 4pm – so we thought – but the flight was in fact 9pm – minor communication problem.

Janusz lands safely and from now on there will be not swearing, going to bed with filthy feet and unbrushed teeth.

Janusz looks and smells embarrassingly fresh which may draw attention of the beautiful Senegal women. We can’t risk any disruption to our trip so he needs to blend in quickly. We decide to sleep rough on the beach approx. 80 km south off Dakar.

 

 

 

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