Wow time is flying, no let up in pace…from camping, to border crossing, to dunes and sand and a near 19 hour driving session.
Let’s recap, day 8 was Laayoune to Dakhla. There wasn’t much to see, pretty samey landscape with a couple of ship wrecks (you can just about make one of them out from this view point) and a Spanish speaking beach dweller who’s home turned into a car park / parking lot for rally participants. We camped in the sands outside of the city itself…it was quite windy, had to tie the tent to the car!
Day 9 was Dakhla to Boa Lanouar, which involved crossing the border into Mauritania. The exit from Morocco was relatively quick, if a little convoluted, with multiple stages. Then came true no-man’s land, the space between Morocco and Mauritania. There is some paved road but the last part is brutally choppy, broken, not marked, like a mountain side really of large rocks and bumps…even in a lifted 4×4 it was uncomfortable…can’t imagine what it was like for an Audi I saw going the other way. Entry into Mauritania was smooth, pre-arranged, we actually got out visas at the camp site, a mile or so away from the road in the dunes, complete with army guards. I had been in a little convoy of 3, with an Opel and VW camper van. The van got stuck in the sand right at the entrance to the site and I was able to give them a little tow to get them pulled out. It was also my intro to Sahara dust. Not the sand you see dunes made out of, the fine dust that coats everything. You can’t avoid it. You feel it when chew, just an ever present grittiness. I joined up with a group of 5 other 4×4 teams in the evening, ready for the big desert adventure…
Day 10 was the epic first day of what was supposed to be a two-day Sahara driving experience. 530 km from Boa Lanouar to Atar, with not a paved road in sight. A few kilometers in, one team suffered a mechanical failure, discovered when they got stuck in sand and only 2 wheels were turning. Closer inspection revealed a gap where a drive shaft to the rear wheels should be. Shortly after another group came through, carrying a driveshaft! They had found it. It wasn’t repairable, so the team opted to return. We carried on as 5, though rocky and sandy conditions, some firm, some so soft it was easy to get bogged down. We had a variety of issues, one team’s fuel leaked due to the bumpiness, several of us, including me, got stuck. In my case, it was self inflicted, another car got stuck ahead of me and as I was reversing, I drove over a bump and beached myself. It took two winch attempts, airing down, filling in holes and a tow to finally get me free! We pressed forward, aware that we were not going to make it by nightfall. We had been briefed on no account to drive at night, so this was not a pleasant prospect. A few more stops and night fell, we were still a long way from the camp site. As a team we decided to press on, and after a further stuck moment, we split, with a team striking north to a village while me and three others continued on the rally route. After several hair-raising hours of night sand / rocky trail driving we made it to a lovely smooth tarmac road. We drove through Atar and on south to the camp site entrance. Thinking we were just about there, and after several miles of hard rocky trails, we were within 2kms of the camp, but no track could be found. I set off on a series of exploratory drives down these narrow sandy paths…came close to driving off a dune which would not have been fun! After three dead ends and about to give up, I tried one last trail and…success. To the surprise of three camels trying to sleep their slumber ruined by 4 tired 4×4 teams as we zoomed into the camp and set up tents. An epic 18h46m drive covering 526kms had come to and end at around 3am.
And so we get to today, day 11. It was supposed to be Atar to Boutilimit, but after the brief 3-hour nap and brutally windy and sand filled night, we decided instead to seek refuge in the capital city, Nouakchott, the comforts of a hotel with a shower and WiFi! It was a simple, tarmac drive, with a brief detour to Atar to fill up.
Tomorrow we regroup and rejoin with our group member who had the driveshaft failure and the rest of the group and we cross into Senegal!