This just in. Rick’s paperwork finally complete.
Leaving Dakar tout suite. Enroute to the Sahara.
Hour 16 of waiting outside our agent transitur, Settrama Sarl:
Our agent, Mr. Malick Lo, finally approaches us to let us know that his weeks of navigating African bureaucracy have finally borne fruit. Just one more quick visit to the Douanes and we are free to leave Senegal.
Inside the dark, impossibly humid bureau de Douanes. Kit and Kyle are shepherded into a cramped but mercifully air conditioned office full of customs officials. Most of whoms primary occupation appears to be to observe the cool air.
In the office, El Hefe informs us that we will not require a manned escort to the border on the one condition that we must absolutely cross the border in Rosso. We were repeatedly told that attempting to cross the border in Diama as we had planned would not only be treacherous because of the state of the roads during the rainy season. But it would also meet with arrest should we be pulled over attempting to even travel in that direction.
After swearing we would never even think the name Diama again, El Hefe left his lieutenants to keep an eye on the air conditioner and walked outside to do one final inspection and see us off. Apart for some confusion over why Kyle’s bike said BMW on the front and sides, and KTM on the rear, everything appeared to be in order and we were finally given approval to head toward
Returning to the trials of the Open Road
As Dakar melted away in the rear-view mirror and urban tollway turned into rural highway, the realization hit: After 2 whole months off the bikes the Ricks were finally on the road again!
Of course nothing is ever easy in Africa. The Ricks had roughly 3 hours of light left to get the 300+ km from Dakar to the frontier at Rosso.
Of course nothing is ever easy in Africa.
This might have been achievable until about an hour into their ride when an unnatural darkness appeared on the horizon to the east and the sky was hella lit (with lightning). The Ricks were headed into a sub-Saharan squall!
After two hours of chilling rain, gusting wind and negligible visibility the storm subsided leaving the Ricks in the nighttime darkness, still multiple hours from the border. The executive decision was made to limit riding among crazy African drivers after dark. The Ricks would divert toward dinner and a room in St. Louis.
The most corrupt border in Africa
With Diama off the table (and probably unreachable by road after the storm) we packed up the following morning and headed an hour north to the Senegal river, the natural border between Senegal and Mauritania.
After spending several hours driving on some very nice freshly paved roads, we came to the commune of Rosso. Kyle handled most of the paperwork, so he describes his experience below.
KYLE: Almost every overlander who has ever driven West Africa has a story of getting ripped off at Rosso. No government building is marked properly. You have to deal with a river crossing on a boat. And there are enough touts trying to shake you down to sink said boat.
Just as we entered town we got snagged by a tout; “Oh go here first for a passport stamp”. They have you now, shaking him off is going to involve some sort of scene. We well and truly jumped into the deep end making Rosso our first border crossing ever, so we used his help. Other touts would try to convince me that he was crazy, that he couldn’t be trusted.
And there are enough touts trying to shake you down to sink said boat.
I knew we were going to get screwed, so a policy of keeping eyes wide open to minimize the damage was followed. I was dragged from unmarked building to unmarked building, admittedly not falling for really dumb ploys like “CFA is worthless in Mauri, you must change it RIGHT HERE (For a shit rate)” but after spending 2 weeks in Dakar we were unable to bust out the tents to resist the small bribes for passport stamp, and for the Douane to just do their damn job.
After over an hour we were finally shooed onto a boat to continue the fun on the other side. Our fixer joined us, and we continued the process on the other side. We discovered that this fixer worked as a team with another one on the Mauri side, and really had the process down pat. They had a guy to watch the bikes, they had a guy handling the Senegal side (who we met initially), they had a Mauri side guy, when the border closed they had family that lived nearby where we could have a meal and lie out on mats.
We were given receipts for everything (who knows if they were even valid I know) except for the bribes for the Senegal officials. At the end of the day we gave the whole team 35$ a bike.
Into the Sahara
With all the proper paperwork in hand and our wallets lightened considerably, the Ricks were exuberant to get back on the road north. Irrigated rice fields quickly gave way to sand dunes as the road surface fell steadily into greater disrepair.
Having spent most of the day navigating the border, once again the Ricks were faced with the threat of night falling before they could make it to their goal: Nouakchott, the capital of Mauritania.
Despite some terrible roads (whoever reported pavement all the way from Rosso to Morocco is a liar…) we eventually made it to Auberge Menata in downtown Nouakchott.
Kit camped in their courtyard and met another rider, a Frenchman living in Benin but returning to France on a local African moto. He claimed his top speed was around 70 km/h and left early in the morning hoping to make the long trek to the border at Nouadhibou in one day. We promised to follow in a few hours with a similar goal.
Hour two we caught up with our French colleague at one of the frequent police checkpoints. Passing him we wished him the best getting through the Sahara. We did not envy his little bike.
Not long after this encounter Kyle began to notice trouble with his engine. We chalk it up to bad gas and the 113 degree heat and push on into the building headwind of blowing sand.
Broke down in blowing hell
Again the high temperature light flashes and the engine knocking increases. This time we pull over and investigate more thoroughly to discover that Kyle’s radiator is practically empty.
We fill the radiator up and run the bike for a bit before heading out again. Now the winds have hit a 70 km/h gale that is blowing rivers of sand across the road and into every conceivable orifice on our bikes and persons, including some delicate places civilized folk such as us are not accustomed to.
At some point the thought that it would truly suck be stuck in a place such as this crosses Kit’s mind. Moments later Kyles pulls off to the side of the road again; this time his bike isn’t running at all.
This is not the first time this trip the Ricks wished they had simpler bikes.
To add insult to injury, the Frenchman from the previous auberge catches back up with us. He only stops briefly to check on us before getting back to his own world of getting a cheap, local moto through the Sahara. Despite the slow pace, there is a bit of jealousy in Kyle’s eye: At least the little air-cooled, carbureted bike is making progress. This is not the first time this trip the Ricks wished they had simpler bikes.
Pretty quickly we surmise that we likely caught the coolant issue too late and the heat and bad gas has created much greater problems in the heart of Kyle’s BMW. A roadside fix in the heat and blowing sand seems unlikely. Time to begin looking for a truck to get us out of here.
How to truck a BMW across the Sahara
Despite being surrounded by nothing but empty desert for 200km in every direction, we are at least on the only road connecting western Africa with the rest of the world. Relatively quickly we find a charitable local with a pickup who is willing to take us to the next rest stop.
Our kindly stranger leaves us at Station Inn Boamatou with the encouragement that many truck drivers headed to Morocco stop here for a meal and evening prayer. Even though he went well out of his way for us loading and unloading the heavy bike, our new friend will accept no thanks for his trouble. A friendly local speaks who speaks a bit of English helps us ask the few truck drivers already here if they will take us north. When he has to go we cringe, waiting for the expected request for a gift. But the boy just wishes us well and heads off. What a different world this is than Senegal, where half a dozen touts would have already approached us with thinly veiled begging.
As dusk draws near none of the Moroccan truck drivers we talk to are willing to take Kyle’s bike north even as far as Nouadhibou, even for a fee. Most appear to be genuinely concerned about navigating the regions numerous police checkpoints with such unusual cargo.
Finally our savior arrives in another local with a Toyota Hilux; this one full of his wife and kids. With the help of some other onlookers we heave the loaded bike into the back of his truck. This would become a common sight over the next two days.
The cab packed with family, Kyle hopped into the bed with his bike and we sped off into the waning light and howling sand.
Another night of Saharan riding
Nightfall brought no relent to the still heavy winds and random patches of sand across the road. And now the oncoming trucks edging into your lane had their brights on to make sure you saw them (and nothing else). Ignoring these hazards our driver ripped north through the desert night at over 130 km/h. Kit struggled to keep up safely and still spot the random sand and camels in the road.
After a particularly fun incident hitting deep sand at over 120 km/h the Ricks reverted to a strategy where Kyle would spot hazards from the truck bed and relay them to Kit over their Sena bluetooth headsets.
Camping in a blowing sands of the Sahara
Hours of desperate desert night riding later, the Ricks finally arrived at a Gendarmerie checkpoint just shy of the border. The bike was unloaded and the guards on duty offered to let us set up camp there for the night. Exhausted and not looking forward to trying to tow the BMW the last few km to the border in darkness, the ricks accepted their offer and began to attempt to set up camp in the howling wind and blowing sand.
The Ricks managed to pitch one tent in the lee of a nearby shanty. Completely beat, they crawled in and passed out in the howling wind and blowing sand of the Sahara with the knowledge that tomorrow would be another long day.