Driving south to the border between Mauritania and Senegal was interesting. The control points were the same, the landscape just as arid, but the further south we came, the more populated the street. Small villages and houses punctuated the view. It was also very hot, around 110°F.
We arrived at the Mauritanian checkpoint prior to Rosso and did the usual. At border crossings, it is normal that there are “guides”, who offer to “help” you with the formalities and then demand a hefty sum for the “help” which they gave. At the checkpoint, which was about 10km before the border, there was a “guide” waiting. He insisted that we would not find the border alone, and insisted that we follow him along the only street, which runs straight through the town, to the border.
Rosso is known to be one of the worst crossings. Astrid read a few horror stories about the experiences of other overlanders. Some had to spend the night, others were so frustrated, but all had to pay a lot – between 50 and 150 € to get across the border (which should only cost 10 € for the ferry). Due to these reports, we were already a bit nervous for this crossing, which had been dubbed “the worst in Africa”.
As we arrived at the border, the “guides” swarmed around us like vultures. We were expecting to see Sani and did not want to be bothered by anyone else. One guide came up to our window saying that someone was looking for us and I should follow him. I asked him for the name of this mystery man, and the guide, of course, was clueless. Then, there was a knock on Astrid’s window – it was Sani!
Sani had taken the week to prepare for our arrival. He had talked to all the guides and picked the “right” one to help us out. We did not know that in Rosso it is mandatory to have a “guide”. Basically the customs and immigration officers support the corruption and therefore require that a guide is used. So, Sani, after finding this out, befriended a guide just for our cause.
The ferry operates between 9am to 12pm and then opens again at 3pm. We arrived at 2:30pm and had to wait. Waiting would become the word of the day. So we stood outside, and tried to find shade and wait. Promptly at 3:30pm, the gates opened and we were instructed to drive (quickly) into the ferry yard. Here, once again, Astrid took charge of the formalities. She and the guide went to work in the customs and immigration office. I waited outside.
Someone tried to wash our car – I stopped him. Then he asked for a gift, or food. I said “no”. I sat in our car without shade, in the blazing sun for what felt like an eternity, waiting for Astrid to get back with the paperwork. Constantly deflecting the offer of help from various “guides”, children and beggars. It was tiring and in combination with the heat, I was getting irritated.
When Astrid got back, we both sat in the car and waited as instructed by officials. We were now all set, but the ferry was not. Mauritania controls when the ferry leaves, and apparently they were not ready to leave. That meant that we had to wait, in the car, in the sun, on the hot day until shortly after 5pm when we could board the ferry.
Boarding the ferry was again an act of organized chaos. Unfortunately we could not take a picture, but the ferry dock was long since broken. So the ferry just did the 2nd best thing, and came as close to shore as possible, lowered the ramp and that was that. We had to perform a water crossing to get on the ferry. (In the West Sahara, Astrid had driven through flooded streets already, but none this deep.) The water was about 60cm deep, and caused the Mercedes behind us to stall on it’s exit.
Welcome to Africa!
The ferry drive was uneventful, but slow. The row-boat next to us kept good pace, and actually arrived before we did. Once we arrived on the Senegalese side, it was more of the same. Waterwading exit, go to a shadeless parking lot and wait. Astrid and our guide disappeared to the customs office and I stood watch over Stella.
As usual, I met some interesting people. One was an older man. He explained to me that he was a guard here. But he was not an official guard, and did not get paid. So, if I wanted, I could give him a few euros to look after our car, purely a voluntary act on my part.
After I explained that I was staying there to look over the car, he began to explain to me that it was customary for “people like you” to give gifts to “people like me”. As he said “people like me” and “people like you” he rubbed his skin to show me what he meant. We had a long discussion, in the hot sun about various customs between Europe, the US and Africa. All the while, we were interrupted by me telling the car washers that I was certain that I did not want a car wash.
The discussion turned into a pity plea – as the man told me that he had no money, and no prospect of getting money. I turned it around and told him that I too had no money – I have no job and, furthermore, I have no home. He looked at me with deeply saddened eyes, and said he understood. Then a younger boy, about 17 years old, came over looking for a gift. The old man explained that I was like them, without a job and had nothing to give. The boy looked at Stella, then at me, then at the old man and said to the effect of, “what are you a fool? Look at this car – of course he has money!”. After a few minutes of further discussion, the boy lost interest and left.
Around 6:00pm, Astrid had finished up the formalities and we left the border area to finish our business with the “guide”. Originally, when we asked the guide how much it would cost to cross the border he had said about 18000 Oughia – or 50 Euro. Now he wanted 80Euro. We said, that can’t be, and refused to pay. That’s when the fun started. It was still hot.
Unfortunately, the guide was dubbed by the border control. They told him that white people had to pay more, and he accepted this lie. So, we agreed to pay him a part of the on-cost of his foolishness, but not a penny more. He should have asked us first, and because of that, he had to take a loss on the day. Of course we attracted onlookers, and after further discussion, they understood our point too. Our guide left unhappy and we were out 30 Euro more. Sani had helped us a lot in getting over the border, now he would guide us to his friend’s house in Richard Toll (40km from Rosso) where we would spend the night.
One final checkpoint before Richard Toll, the police asked for 1000 CFA (about 1,80€), to which I replied with surprise and wonder, “What, 1000CFA, why?” He stared back at me, and I repeated “Why” and then he smiled and let us on our way.
We were hot, tired and sweaty. We looked forward to the shower and food that awaited us in Richard Toll.