We finally dragged ourselves out of Nouakchott and headed south again under surprisingly clear skies with only a light breeze out of the east. The next few days were easy riding without the intense wind and dust that had characterised riding in Mauritania thus far. We also found the road south of Nouakchott to be well populated with ample opportunities to stop for water and food. Although out of habit we now carried enough of each to cover three days.
I had read another cyclist’s blog which mentioned encountering hostile people on the roads in southern Mauritania, but we experienced nothing of the sort. On the contrary, when stopping by the side of the road, we were twice invited to rest in a tent out of the sun. Our first night we were invited to sleep in a room in a family’s house next to a gendarmes checkpoint. The second night a police commissioner let us set up our tents in front of his house, then unrolled a large mat on the sand for us to sit on and spent a couple hours chatting with us under the stars.
The landscape in southern Mauritania was beautiful, primarily thorn trees scattered over sandy hills and dunes of white and gold sand. The Michelin maps imply that the whole area is sand dunes, but while there was certainly sand, the trees created a very different impression. When the political situation in the country improves I would love to spend more time travelling in southern Mauritania, exploring this country of beautiful land and hospitality.
But for now, our route took us further south into greener terrain as we approached the Senegal river. We had originally planned to cross the border at Diama since we’d heard horror stories of the hassles involved in crossing at Rosso. However, the road to Diama is under construction and would have involved a 15 kilometer section of sand — probably on foot — so we opted for the Rosso crossing. Like my experience of the Moroccan border in Tangier, the event did not come anywhere near being as bad as expected. Certainly, there were a handful of touts to be avoided and the initial price quoted to us for the ferry was outlandish, but we were not asked for bribes on either side of the border and everything was straightforward once we found someone in uniform to deal with.
The road from Rosso to Saint-Louis is under reconstruction which meant some parts were terrible, old and pot-holed, some parts were bare, but graded dirt, and other sections were serenely smooth new tarmac. On the whole, the road was good and we made good time riding past what seemed like impossibly lush farmland.
Once in town, Julian talked a store owner into letting us use his phone and I called Joeri of Bantalabs who had generously offered to let us stay with him for a bit. We’ve now had seven (count ’em, seven!) rest days here thanks to Joeri’s hospitality!
Today, Pieter headed on toward Dakar on his own. After which he’ll continue to Gambia and then perhaps Guinea and Mali. Julian has been busy interviewing people and giving talks at schools about racism and environmental issues. He plans to continue on to Dakar as well starting tomorrow. He’ll be in Senegal for a little while yet, but eventually will ride all the way to South Africa. You can follow his blog (in French) here: juliancyclo.tumblr.com.
For me this is the end of the bike trip for the moment. I’ve enrolled in a French class for a couple months, found a room to live in thanks to my friends Augustin and Clementine, and will be working on some personal programming projects here at Bantalabs’ co-working space. It’s going to feel weird not moving on in a couple days, but the journey is never over. I’ll just be taking some rest days.