Haggling, hustling, hampering

We made our way, via taxi, to the bus ‘terminal’ for transport to the Mauritanian/Senegalese border. After paying and waiting for about 45 minutes we set off in a rather cramp minibus on a 6 hour journey through the desert/countryside. The two of us were in the front seats so had great views of the endless sand for the first half and then gradually saw the change on landscape, becoming greener, as we headed further south.

The border town of Rosso was like any other, busy, noisy, dirty and full of people trying to take your money. Having done many border. crossings between us, around the world we both felt confident that we wouldn’t fall foul of any of the locals tricks to get us to pay for extra things. We initially had to get a horse cart to take us from the bus stop to the frontier which was a few kilometers away and before we had even jumped down there were half a dozen men surrounding us, telling us they would help nus if we gave them our passports and X amount of money. Clearly not wanting to do thus we went to one of the border guards. Unfortunately all the border officials are in on this huge scam as well and as far as we could see there was no way of beating the system without spending hours arguing about it.

Firstly we were directed to a photo copying shop to get a copy of our passport and to change some money (at a very poor rate) for the ferry as the border was the Senegal river. We then showed our passports to the first guard to let us into the ‘harbour’ and passport control area. He then handed them back to olne of the ‘helpers’ who wouldn’t return them but walked to the passport control to get them stamped. The guard in there dutifully stamped us out of Mauritania but then agreed with our ‘helper’ that we had to pay $15 each for the privilege and for the ferry ticket (which was marked up as about 30p). This being a ridiculous price Nick tried to grab the passport back after a heated argument but just as a number of our ‘helper’s’ friends came over and before Nick was knocked out u fished into my pocket for the money which enabled the safe release of our passports. Going down to the water front we were told the ferry wasn’t leaving for another 3 hours but we could pay $5 to go across on a water taxi. More arguing which got us nowhere and wanting to get away from the whole situation as quickly as we could we got on board with a Senegalese man who was friendly and trying to help.

Nick and I crossing the river

On the Senegalese side we had our guards completely up but there wasn’t much issue, we even managed to exchange money at a reasonable rate with our Senegalese friend at our side, who actually helped with fending off touts and other hustlers. He took us out of the main river crossing area and to the travel depot. Here we had two options, either a minibus to Dakar which would stop a lot and we would have Tol wait until it was completely full or a Sept-Place (7 seater) which would go direct, for a little more. We chose the sept-place and were given two of the 3 seats in the boot of an ancient 5 seater Peugeot estate, the other was taken by a Mauritanian man and his small nephew, an impossibly tight squeeze which made the journey very uuncomfortable.

In the back of the sept-place
The vehicle of our pain

The journey form the border to Dakar should have taken around 6 hours but because the car was so old, it had numerous holes in the roof and doors from rust, it took 7 hours with plenty if stops to refill the coolant which was leaking to get to a random petrol station in some random town 60km outside Dakar then the driver refused to carry on, even though all 7 of us had paid the full price to go to Dakar! Thankfully our Mauritanian friend spoke very good English and was also bold enough to fetch the police. What ensued was the driver having to pay for all of us to go in separate taxis to Dakar but the 3 of us and his nephew stuck together as he knew we needed his help. Eventually after an hour of waiting we were in a separate taxi on our way again. We paid the driver a little extra and he took us to our hostel. My faith was once again restored in the Mauritanian people after our border experience.

Our hostel was pretty central and the cheapest we were recommended and at gone midnight we weren’t in too much of a state to search elsewhere. One of the owners spoke English and after showing us the room took us to the best exchange rate for English cards for withdrawing cash. We then went for a beer which we had been promising ourselves all day we deserved but after about 30 seconds after we had ordered our beers it was clear why he had brought us to this bar as two, quite pretty young local girls came over. They weren’t impressed when we said we weren’t interested and they made the whole situation uncomfortable so we finished our drinks and left as soon ad we could to get some food and some much much needed rest.

Today had the potential to be a brilliantly exciting day of travel with one of the coolest border crossings I have done but instead it was full of arguments, let downs and unnecessary stress. I can’t remember a worse day of travelling ever.

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