We left Nouakchott and headed back into the desert for the final
stretch to the Senegalese border. The first day was just about as tough as it
gets. On any other day I would have remained in bed to recover from a cold/flu,
but on this day we had to cover at least 100km in order to stay on schedule for
Kumi’s flight from Dakar on the 7th. I can say without any hesitation that it
was the most unpleasant day and possibly the most difficult day of this entire
trip. We had a consistent side and headwind and the air was dry, my throat
parched, nose blocked, the sky, how shall I say, was 50 shades of grey (typical
Sahara sand storm) and it was hot. Then as a final twist I injured my knee
(probably trying to cycle too hard into the wind with an overloaded bike) – so
my knee was hurting with each down-stroke of the pedal. To put it all into
context, it was the first day of not having diarrhea after just recovering from
3 days of another bout of bad food or water.
I thought the agony would never end and I was wishing each minute
away for most of the day.
The second day I strapped up my knee with Kumi’s leg compress and
the scenery changed quite a bit. My cold was still progressing. The Sahara was
now mostly red sand dunes peppered with those thorn trees the goats and camels
are always chewing on. The temperature was 39 degrees and we worked hard to make
it to the border town of Rosso. We needed to catch the ferry to cross the river to
Senegal before the border closed at 6PM. The road conditions were very bad, even
for bicycles. The tar had melted and reformed many times over from the
We all agree, none of us like border towns as it seems to
accumulate the worst examples of humanity in a very concentrated form. In this
case, the police and Gendermerie were very much and blatantly part of the whole
organized circle of crime. I eventually paid the ‘ferry fee’ just at the point
where it started to get ugly. The locals backed up by the police wanted to
physically remove us from the ferry. The reason for the dispute was because we
each needed to buy 5 x 50kg tickets to cross with the ferry. We were clearly
being targeted as foreigners because none of the locals were paying to cross
and our own prior research indicated that the foot passenger trip with bicycle
should be free.
We crossed the river on the last ferry of the day and arrived on
the Senegalese side to the welcome arms of what seemed to be a 1000 self styled
entrepreneurs and business people all wanting to take your money in one form or
the other. We exchanged our last Mauritanian Ouguiya’s for West African Francs
with a local street trader whom I suspect would have done a better job with the
European economy than the bankers that messed up the financial system. His rate
was fair and non-negotiable, the transaction swift and discreet.
After police clearance we swiftly moved out of the
border town past the typical congested clusters of street traders and
travellers. We headed off into deeper Senegal as the sun was setting for our
first wild camp of the territory.
None of us slept well that night. The tropical sounds, combined with what
sounded like a herd of oxen and a pack of village dogs kept us awake for many
hours. Pablo had a large long legged insect visitor in his tent which he
executed with the same vigour as the axe (deodorant can) ‘murder’ I had
committed a few months earlier during a wild camp incident in
I woke at 5 AM (not really having slept for more than 3 or 4
hours) and persuaded the others that it was time to pack up and get an early
start to St.Louis.
The temperature had risen to 44 degrees by the time we entered
St. Louis. It was fiercely hot, but the vibrancy of the place and promise of a
day’s rest gave me the energy I needed to cycle the last few kilometres to the
Ocean campsite with Robinson Crusoe type beach huts. We’re now 3 cycling days
from Dakar, but first we rest.