Smelly Business -

428 days 34353km

While we spent six months in South Africa and Namibia we thought we were still in Africa. People were already telling us differently, and sure we did realized that it was a lot more European than all the other countries we visited, but somehow, probably due to smooth transition, we forgot how big the gap really was again. When we got out off the airplane in Dakar, Senegal there was no smooth transition; overnight we were back in Africa, real Africa that is.

Flying is not a hobby of either of us; it’s boring, potentially dangerous and generally just a hassle. It does take you very quick from one place to another, which, in times, can be very handy. We flew from Jo’Burg to Addis Ababa in six hours, a trip that took us nine months to drive. In Addis the Ethiopian people were just as friendly as we remembered, although this time we haven’t been asked for a pen or money. After a five hour layover we took the next plane to Dakar. On the way we made a stop in Bamako in Mali. Can’t say we have really been there, but it was cool to see the city (a lot of sand and no tall buildings) from the sky. We arrived in Dakar end of the afternoon, and after fairly simple customs procedures we got into the city.

After some serious bargaining a taxi took us from the airport to the university area where we would spend our first few nights. The first impression of the city and its inhabitants was quite ok except for the littering that is beyond believe. Although we haven’t mentioned it much lately litter, and especially plastic litter, is everywhere in Africa. Many countries simply don’t have any facilities that deal with waste which results in rubbish dumps anywhere there’s not a house standing, a lot of plastic flying around, hanging in trees and bushes and polluting streams. In the rare case that rubbish is actually collected it is often dumped at the edge of the town or city, and as soon the wind picks up most of it flies straight back to where it came from. Dakar is a city with three million residents and a very limited rubbish system and the result is quite shocking. Because cities are never our favorite place to be and we avoid them as often as we can it would be out of order to say that Dakar is the dirtiest city in Africa. We can, however, say that it is the filthiest place that we have seen on our trip and actually also in our whole life. Open sewers, without significant flow, completely covered in shit and rubbish. Everywhere you’d look a piece of plastic was lying on the floor. In the middle of it all life was happening; goats and other life stock where still finding food in pieces of cardboard and other materials. Around them women would be selling food and the market seemed to be everywhere too. The ocean around the city is polluted as well and many parts are unsuitable for swimming due to the sewer that flows into it. The places where you can swim are not clean either; finding a litter free spot on the beach is impossible and even in the water you’ll be in between rubbish.

The traffic in the city is also quite overwhelming; besides that it is very busy this, too, is very dirty. The majority of the traffic is made up by public transport and taxis. The taxis are mostly old crappy Renaults and Peugeots, all painted in yellow and black and full of dents. The busses are either very colorful and painted in special patterns or plain white Mercedes 508 and the majority of them look like shit. This is definitely the place where all those cars and vans from Europe went after they weren’t allowed on our roads anymore. It is unbelievable that most of them still drive; it says something about the mechanical skills in the African workshops. Whether mother earth agrees is highly doubtable; all those vans and cars are causing very serious pollution. Clouds of black smoke are seen all the time, and we both got throat and nose irritation after we stayed in the city a few days. Nowadays only vehicles of five years and younger may be imported into the country, fortunately. Funny thing is though, the men are all very concerned with keeping their vehicle clean, whilst most men themselves walk around in very dirty clothes, and car washes are found everywhere. These car washes are obviously not like the ones at home; here they consist of a bucket with dirty water and soap and a hard working young man with a sponge. Another part of the traffic is made up of trucks. Mostly brothers and sisters of our truck; the Renault Midliner is king of the road here, though most of them are in some state of decompose. Our shiny orange monster really stood out! Other means of transport are horse and carriage, bicycle, motorbike, scooter and of course just walking.

No doubt that after reading all of this crap you would get out of the city as fast as you could, but no not us. We had to wait for our truck to arrive, remember? So instead we walked hours through the city making our way towards the harbor where we had to find an agent to help us with the clearing on this side. First stop was made was at the office of the shipping line and here we spoke with a friendly man who referred us to a transit office around the corner. At the transit office we sat down with the manager and explained him our case. It became evident that this man was not in the mood for anything out of the ordinary and a lot of sighing is what followed. The man was unfamiliar with the carnet de passage and wanted to send us away after he saw that our truck is from ’96. “No vehicle older than five years enters” he said and wanted to turn away. We objected and he decided to call in for help. A young man showed up who was familiar with the carnet and the procedure and he told his boss that it should be no problem. Still the boss wasn’t convinced, so next step we had to go to the main admin building to get an approval from the head administration. Ok, so we did that and this man guided us back to the boss who then had to agree on taking the job.

The next day we decided that is was time to escape from the city for a bit and we took a ferry to Île de Gorée. This island is a haven of peace; there are no cars and all buildings are still colonial. It’s a bit like a time warp coming from the city, a very pleasant experience. But, Gorée hasn’t always been peaceful like that; back in the day it was a very important place for the slave trade. Especially the Dutch have a very dark piece of history here. We visited a house where slaves used to be kept until ready for transport. A big colonial building with big bright rooms, but underneath all this were small, dark damp rooms where too many people were kept in too small spaces. There was also a display of some of the ‘tools’ used in those days; heavy iron chains and shackles for feet, wrists and neck. Awful to see, but good to be reminded that we are capable of doing the most horrible things to our fellow human beings. Nowadays the island is full of artists, many of whom make the similar art, but some are more original. Nice to see that they actually make use of rubbish for their art; old mobile phones are turned into the body of a puppet amongst other things. The island in general was very clean and people weren’t hustling us all the time.

By the time we had only two days left until the boat arrived we thought it was about time to get in contact with the shipping agent. We could have called, but usually a visit in real life is much more affective so we walked to the harbor once again. At the office the boss was still sighing, but when we told him the boat was coming the day after tomorrow he did seem to wake up a little. The young man was called in once again and we made sure we got his phone number and email address before we left. The next two days we stayed in contact with him and this worked fine.

We stayed in the city for almost two weeks. Luckily we found a relaxed place to stay at via Airbnb. A private room with a shared courtyard and kitchen. This place was quiet and relaxed and had a very fast internet connection which made waiting a little less hard. The city simply doesn’t have that much to offer and being dirty as it is a nice stroll is also out of the question. We killed some time on a few markets in the city. Markets are always quite intense, but quite amazing too. Narrow lanes that seem to go on and on forever filled with the most exotic merchandise. A lot food usually, but also other product like jewelry, household and beauty products and many tailors (mostly men) waiting behind their sewing machines. We bought some beautiful batik, typical fabric with exotic prints and multi color, and enjoyed the eye candy all around us.

On Friday morning the boat arrived! We tried to get the truck back that day, but it was Friday and it didn’t work out. Islam is the main religion in Senegal, 90% of the people are Muslim, and on Friday afternoon is the most important prayer of the week resulting in a lunch break until 3 o’clock. We tried to get the papers sorted after lunch, but by the time we got the office to pay the harbor it was closed. Big pity, because they don’t work in the weekend and we’d come back on Monday morning. Monday morning 8 o’clock we were present at the office of our agent and by nine we were in the harbor. After a few offices and a lot of waiting all paperwork was sorted and just after midday we drove out of the harbor in our truck. Nobody inspected the truck, not even the chassis number was checked before we left. Everything went well with the shipping; no damage to the truck was done, no signs of attempted burglary and the solar panels were still on the roof. We were ready to go.

Close to Dakar is Lac Rose. This lake is about ten times saltier than the ocean and because of this the water often looks pink, hence the name of the place. There’s a lot salt mining happening in the lake and its shores are dotted with heaps of salt where we saw men working hard, filling up big bags in the burning sun, we were told most of it is used on European winter roads. We decided to hang out there for a few days just to unwind from the crazy dirty city life. Lac Rose used to be the finish line for the Dakar rally back when the race still took place in Africa. One day we went for a float on the lake which was a strange experience. Neither of us has been to the Dead Sea, but it is similar to it. After a short swim, you can’t stay in the water long; it damages your skin, we dried up completely white covered in salt crystals. We stayed three nights and then headed north to Saint Louis, the countries supposed to be relaxed colonial city.

Saint Louis is made up of a city on the mainland and two islands along the coast. The main island is reached by a 500 meter long bridge; Pont Faidherbe designed by Gustav Eiffel in the 19th century. Five years ago the bridge has been completely renewed, so we weren’t scared to drive our baby across. This first island is the main attraction because it is still in colonial style and quite well maintained. Walking around here is fairly relaxed; not too much hassling and it is not too busy or dirty. The second island is not quite like that though. Here pollution seemed the key word; everywhere you’d look there was rubbish, it seemed even worse than Dakar. On the south end of this island is a national reserve and this is also where most hotels and campsites are. To get there you have to cross the fish market where all the pirogues, traditional Senegalese boats, come back from sea. The place was crowded with pirogues discharging and trucks packing all the fish, there were numerous people working around and all of this in the middle of piles of rubbish, this time topped with a lot of rotting fish. The smell was… We really hoped that things would be better at the most southern tip of the island since this is a reserve, but it hardly made a difference. It might have been cleaner in the past, but due to the Ebola outbreak two years ago in neighboring countries tourists aren’t coming anymore and most of the hotels seemed in neglect, so perhaps nobody really cares anymore. We had seen enough after two days and headed towards the border with Mauritania.

The border crossing with Mauritania is possibly the most notorious one in the whole of Africa; corruption and chaos are terms often used in relation to the Rosso border. We got there on a Friday and as described before this is not a good day to achieve things in a Muslim country. Mauritania is 99% Muslim, so we intended to cross the next morning, but the officials on Senegalese side seemed very eager and said we should cross now. We got our exit stamps for Senegal, emptied our bottle of alcohol into the river, alcohol is strictly prohibited in Mauritania, and got ready to cross the Senegal River with the barge waiting in front of us. This sounds pretty fast and simple, but while doing all this we had to fight off a group of ‘helpers’ all the time. These ‘helpers’ are actually not very helpful at all; besides the unwanted escort to any of the offices they try to rip you off. And when this doesn’t work out they can get quite intimidating and very annoying above all. It took us an hour and a half before we could get to the other side. By now it was after six o’clock and we expected to find closed offices all over, but this was not the case, though everything needed to be done in a hurry and we got the carnet stamped straight away. Only then the visa appeared closed and we saw ourselves forced to sleep a night at the border. This night, full of noise from people and pirogues and the mosque, we didn’t sleep so very good, but at least we would be first in line next morning. Already at eight in the morning everything seemed to be alive except, of course, the visa office. The officer was supposed to start at ten, but had a little sleep in en showed up half an hour late. Once he was installed things were pretty much done in no time and by eleven we drove out into the sand pit that is called Mauritania. One official inspected the inside the box; a procedure that took no more than one minute in total.

What can we write about Mauritania other than that there is a lot sand? It was very cool to see sand dunes straight away after the border. The beautiful red ones that have the most elegant shapes and take you straight into a 1001 night’s story, with a little bit of imagination that is of course. From the border to Nouakchott, the capital, the landscape is pretty much the same; dry patches of bush land in between a lot of sand with many tiny villages all along the road. Those villages often didn’t consist of more than 20 houses and a mosque. Those houses are like none we saw before; rectangle shaped brick wall up to half a meter high, the walls are made of fencing and covered with fabric that dances in the wind all the way up to the pointy roof which is made out of tinplates. We noticed that the animal shelters were exactly the same except for the fabric around it. Also quite some people still seemed to live in tents, which makes sense since many of them still go by a nomadic existence. We found good places to bush camp and enjoyed the quietness of the desert once again.

Then we got to Nouakchott. It was a Sunday afternoon and we had no intention to stop in the city at all. With the limited maps that we have of the city we thought it was best to stay on the outskirts and get in and out fast and simple. This almost worked out except for the part where there was a market on the way. On both sides of the street stalls were busy selling their goods, many buyers there too, and since it was still the continuing road there was plenty of traffic too, some of it driving and some of it parking in the middle of the road. So quite chaotic but very funny to see. We were happy though once we passed it and found our way out of the city. On the long stretch of road north of Nouakchott there are almost no villages and the landscape gets more boring the more north you get; no dunes, no hills, just flat dry emptiness. Needless to say that Anthony’s birthday passed here without big celebration. The fun parts of Mauritania, further east, are currently not the safest place on earth so we didn’t go there, but instead we headed straight to the border. It took us four days to cross the country and we bush camped every night.

The border with Western Sahara is the last African border crossing on our trip. Here we officially cross into Morocco, who controls the area, and after Morocco we are back in Europe. Getting out of Mauritania was easy and straight forward and took no more than half an hour. To get to WS you have to cross a stretch of land that is referred to as no man’s land, which it isn’t. In fact, the place is quite busy with people either crossing or pick nicking. There is no road and the short crazy bumpy drive reminded us very much of a stretch of land we crossed at Lake Turkana in Kenya. Main difference is that this no man’s land is also a scrap yard full of abandoned cars, some still complete but the majority stripped to the bone.

The formalities at the Moroccan border were very strict and serious, but the officials were very friendly and helpful, not intimidating at all. First off there was a police check where they searched us and checked our passports. Then we had to drive our truck to the side and get our passports stamped, plus we had to collect the needed custom papers. Once all this was done a team of officials wanted to search the truck. We always tell officials that our steps are broken and that they have to jump into the box. We are quite trained in this by now and for us the action takes little effort, however, when you are not used this it is quite a climb; the door is at 1.50. Often it resulted in only one, if any, official entering the box and this time was no exception. The young men did a proper but superficial inspection and we were asked many times if we had any fire arms or other weapons with us, which we didn’t. Once the check was done we needed another stamp before we could take the truck to the scanner. All vehicles going north had to go through a scanner, or x-ray machine, before you are allowed to enter the country. Obviously we didn’t have any weapons hidden anywhere so we were allowed to enter Morocco, the whole operation took two hours.

Once the gate opened we almost couldn’t leave. The queue to get into the border was four lanes thick and completely blocking the way. We managed to squeeze through by entering a petrol station and wait for the traffic to clear. So, here we stood in our final African country. The landscape in Western Sahara is very boring, mostly very flat with nothing to see on it. Sometimes a sand dune appears out of nowhere, the dunes here are white and not red like in Mauritania, but that’s it. Often we drive close to ocean, but after a while the waves don’t offer any distraction either. Christmas came and went like that. The only Christmas tree we’ve seen was in an office in Senegal, other than that we haven’t noticed it all. We have been camping in the wild somewhere on the coast all the way to Laayoune, the capital of WS, where we are right now.

Some 400 km north of here a free festival takes place for New Years Eve. Many people from Europe join this party and we too are going to be part of it. The next few days we will make our way up there and after the party we wish to explore Morocco for a while. In that way we make the best of last month’s travelling while winter passes in Europe.

We have added a view extra photos to the South Africa map containing pics from our last weekend there. We went on a trip to the Oribi Gorge with Ryno, a South African guy we met in Durban which was great fun. And of course we have added photos of the above. (Don’t worry there is no smell with it!)

Happy New Year everyone, see you next year!

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5 comments

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Marieke (2 years ago)

Heerlijk weer even jullie verhalen gelezen en weggedroomd natuurlijk :) Tijd gaat echt snel zeg, straks al weer terug in Europa! Maar geniet nog van Marokko en ik hoop heel erg dat we elkaar treffen in mei in NL. Ga nu jullie foto’s bekijken. Heel veel liefs, Marieke

Yeun-Yan (2 years ago)

Dag lieverds!!

Welkom terug in Europa.. wat was het weer fijn om jullie avonturen te lezen zeg..
Lijkt me best raar om naar zoveel maanden in Europa te zijn..
Geniet van jullie laatste maandjes reizen, neem alle tijd volop te genieten.

Hier is de baby er nog steeds niet, hij is al 4 dagen te laat :-( Dus zit ik voorlopig met mijn bolle buik binnen.. en ik kan je vertellen dat niets doen, niets voor mij is haha.

Dikke kus voor jullie! x Yeun

Mario (2 years ago)

Wat een heerlijk verhaal weer!! Kunnen jullie aub niet omkeren en het rondje andersom doen? Ik vind het heel leuk om Jullie straks weer te zien maar Damn wat zal ik jullie verhalen gaan missen!!!
Maar vooruit..GENIET van jullie ‘laatste’ episode..en tot de volgende ;-)))

nita scheepers (2 years ago)

Hi Reizigers,
Alweer heb ik genoten van jullie verhaal. Jammer dat het er bijna op zit alhoewel Marokko nog zeker de moeite waard is om rond te trekken.
Marije, kun je wat meer info geven over dat festival waar je met oudjaar wil zijn. Ik ben geïnteresseerd!
Goede reis, blijf genieten en tot een volgende keer.

Dennis (2 years ago)

Hey you two,
Nice to read that you are safe and you almost made it to your finale destination!
Sounds like a stressfull time to get there though.
Hope you will have a nice party at new year, and the last part of your adventure will be relaxed.
Enjoy Marocco and Im looking forward to read more adventures!

Love Dennis

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