Thursday, October 31, 2013

Hitch-hiking, far away and in a hurry. Or a account on how I got from Spain to Senegal - Third Part

    This is a chronological account on how I traveled hitch-hiking (or auto-stop) in September 2013 from Toledo in Spain up to Saint Louis in Senegal; and my adventures with the rivers, the borders and the visas. Since it is pretty long, I will do it in several separate articles. If you are looking for a story, I hope you enjoy it; if you are looking for advices, you can look for them through the text or wait until the last part where I will summarize everything I learnt.

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     Mauritania, country of deserts and police controls:

     The first thing I remember when entering Mauritania, beside my hunger for not eating anything since early morning, was that I wanted to change vehicles. With Kaba I was feeling comfortable any more, and the fact that his truck moved so slow added up on my lack of comfort since it was taking too long to travel the road. It was my luck that after eating, parked outside, was the car of the French woman who we had encountered in the road. She was with her son now, and they were going straight to St Louis, the first city inside Senegal, and they had room in the car. Given they had just said no to a Senegalese girl, they were a bit reluctant on taking me, but they agreed in the end; and me, happy of being able to share more than just simple talk and a faster speed, I climbed radiant of joy inside their Citroën truck and we left.

     The trip was fast really. There are a few hundred kilometer until the capital of Mauritania, which we did with some good talk and at a nice speed. I would talk to them about why I wantde to get to Dakar fast, and the told me how they had made the decision of leaving France to go live in Saint Louis. It seemed just like a moment, and we arrived at Nouakchott, where because of talking to a guy who was offering his restaurant in a police control, we ended up eating and sleeping in his home. Facing the street they had their restaurant, and what we thought was a good price for a hotel room for 3 people, anded up being 3 persons sleeping in the same mattress on the floor, in waht seemed to be the main room of the house. Welcome to Mauritania!

     The nest morning we left early after a light breakfast. Going through the road of this country imply finding a police control every 50km approximately, and we all wanted to arrive early to the border. Luckily Kaba had given me a head's up, and I was prepared with photocopies of my passport. And since for the car they had done the same with the registration and insurance, in the Controls we would simply hand over "les fiches" and we would be on our way. Like this we were soon in Rosso, the border with Senegal, from where you take a ferry to go to the other side of the river Senegal. To do all the paperwork at the border they had given Sebastien the number of a boy that could help us, and hastily for a fair comission (according to him) he quickly got us on the ferry boat.

     Entering Senegal, pay for everything:

     At the border we encountered two problems. The first one was that only since few months before it wasn't possible to get the visa when entering the country, not even for Europeans, and it was compulsory to do everything online. This was apparently my problem. But as a second problem we encountered that with the document they had saying they were living in Senegal, documents issued by France, they weren't allowed to get neither. So the problem of having to get a tourist visa became a shared group problem. Of course that it being a city in a difficult border, you can get "inside the country" to go to a cyber and get the paperwork done online, you just have to leave your passport with the Police. So we went in, went to the cyber and filled the form, and we waited. Because the can take up to several days to authorize it!

     And after several hours, when the situation had made us look for a hotel room for the Mother who was really tired, Sebastien called another of his Senegalese friends, and this one recommended him to go to Saint Louis, sleep there, and go back few days later to finish the paperwork of the visa and to get back the passports. I was dubious of leaving my passport, but on the other hand it was already clear that what the Officer was looking for was a "fix" to make the thing go faster. So we went to sleep at the house of the French family, spent two nights, and came back to regain our passports... having paid the special fee for "fast track paperwork"... of bribe.

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     After this adventure, summarizing my experience, I've learned that preparing oneself sometimes is neccesary and that full improvisation, althoug fun and adventurous, it is not very recommendable when one is travelling with a dead line, whatever the reason. And although I got along fine, it could have saved me some drops of sweat if I had done my research in advance. It is because of that that I want to put here the thing I've learned, because even if they may not be a lot, they will be able to helpo those that reached this place looking for information. And I want to make clear that this information is valid up to my best knowledge up top September 2013, and I give it with no warranties of any kind.

  • You can hitch hike your way across, but only with truckers in my experience. Going to the barrier of entrance for the trucks, just besides the SPIF parking lot, and asking the drivers directly. 

  • The Visa must be gotten and the Mauritanian Embassy in Rabat, where you are allowed to hand in your papers from 9am to 2pm, so I recommend going around 8. It is neccessary to take: 340dh + 2 photos 4x4 + 2 photocopies of your passport.
  • The Embassy is at 6, Rue Thami Lamdouar, Souissi RABAT (next to Av Mohamed VI - Av Mehdi Ben Barka). And the telephone number is (+212) (537) 65 66 78. From the center you can take bus 26a in Avenue Patrice Lumumba.
  • Take several photocopies of your passport in the country, to accelerate your passing through the Police Controls.

  • Es necesario tramitar la Visa antes de llegar a la frontera, pero cuando yo pasé si no estaba ya en el pasaporte desde Europa, el único lugar para tramitarla era en la frontera de Rosso. Es necesario entrar a y pagar los EURO 50 por internet; y luego esperar el mail de aprobación (el primero confirma el trámite, el segundo mail confirma la aceptación de el visado).

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Y así termino mi relato. Fue un viaje movido, lleno de incidentes y aventuras, del cual no me arrepiento ni un poquito. Espero que a quien lo lea le sirva de inspiración y algún día nos crucemos por el camino.

Dejen sus comentarios si quieren, y no duden en preguntar si piensan hacer algo parecido!

Saludos desde un rincón del mundo,
Nos vemos por el mundo!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Hitch-hiking, far away and in a hurry. Or a account on how I got from Spain to Senegal - Second Part

    This is a chronological account on how I traveled hitch-hiking (or auto-stop) in September 2013 from Toledo in Spain up to Saint Louis in Senegal; and my adventures with the rivers, the borders and the visas. Since it is pretty long, I will do it in several separate articles. If you are looking for a story, I hope you enjoy it; if you are looking for advices, you can look for them through the text or wait until the last part where I will summarize everything I learnt.

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     From one side of the puddle to the other:

In the ferry, waiting for dinner
     In Algeciras what was harder for me, in time and walks, was finding the place where to talk to truckers. Because to cross to Morocco in ferry the car pays per passenger but the truck does not, and therefore it is easy to find a trucker happy to help to get on the ferry. First I walked from the truck's entrance to port up to the main entrance, some 30 minutes; after that i went by the passenger terminal, another 10 minutes walking; I talked to another hitcher traveler, a controller for one of the ferry companies, and even with the policeman in charge of controlling passport from the cars, just to find where was the best spot to go into a truck. And I was given two options: the payed parking "La Isla Verde" ("The green Island"), where lots of trucks wait for their time to embark, and the closer parking of the PIF (the sanitary control); since I had already walked enough, I inclined to the second one. And what a great choice it was! Although in the parking itself there is nothing, because the vast majority there is waiting after getting off the ferrys, what I did was meet and talk with two Spanish truckers that gave all the good info. They told me that the best option was to stay just before the barrier of entrance to the boats, which is where the trucks tend to wait before embarking, just next to the PIF.

     I thought the best was to introduce myself to the policeman controlling the entrance, so as to have his good view on the subject and with a little help his help; and he told me the next scheduled ferrys, and therefore the best times to be there waiting. As soon as the hour came closer, some trucks started to hang around, and me calmly go to all of them to ask them to get me on board of the boat. And after playing hard to get, two Moroccan  drivers invited me and another French backpacker to get on board. It's excellent to go on board with truckers, because they know everything and get a free meal. I took full advantage and after eating dinners I got a shower (being this one of m best decisions because it was going to be 8 days until I could take the next one)

     The trip to Rabat and the visa for Mauritania:

     We forgot about the trucks as son as we arrived to port, so with Baptiste we decided to spend the night in the Port of Tanger Med and to continue traveling int he morning. The night was uncomfortable and cold; until I though and took my sleeping bag out. When we woke up we had a quick breakfast together, and we separated because he was going around Morocco nice and easy, starting with Chefchaouen, and I was going to go as quick as possible to Rabat for the visa for Mauritania, and then straight and non stop to Senegal. In half an hour I got a ride to Tangier, and I waved good bye to Baptiste who was still waiting. Regrettably I was let in the Garre Routierre, the bus terminal, just in the center of the city, which implied and walk of several kilometers to get out of the center; but if we take in account that between walking and hitching it took me 1 hour to get out of the city, it wasn't that bad.

Al menos me regalaron un melón
cuando no sabia que hacer
     I got picked up by a Moroccan who when told him I had no money to help him pt a long face, but did not ask me to get out of the car. The fact that he was going to Kenitra, almost Rabat, was ideal; unfortunately he had been out partying the night before and not many kilometers away he dropped me off outside of the highway in a ton where he was going to take a nap with some family. This implied to me a good hour between understanding what was best for me, whether to stay on the national road where I was or to go back to the highway; and I got someone to take me back to the toll station, as I had decided to do. Once there I took a break, and had lunch with the precooked Spanish tortilla I had bought in Algeciras just in case before getting on the truck. After that I got stuck with good luck and after fifteen minutes I was in a car with a Galician who was going to Casablanca, and therefore gave me ticket non-stop to Rabat. From the Periphery where Guillermo left me I took a bus to the center, since I was very tired and still had to find out where, when and how to get to the Embassy of Mauritania to get the visa.

     I had learnt before, in my previous trip to Morocco, that the visa for Mauritania can't be don in the border and that the best place to do it is Rabat; there is a sign saying that now it exist a Frontier Post to do the paper work, but it wasn't working when I got across and I wouldn't take the risk. With all the requisites in my power*put in link with details* I showed up at 8am so as to be early and do the paperwork, and if one goes prepared everything is handed in at 9am when the door is open, and at 14hrs I got my hungarian passport back with the wanted visa in it.

     From Rabat to the Border:

"Mate" on the road
     I was expecting there to be much more people in the evening at the handing of the passports so as to ask and get a ride to Mauritania, and I couldn't have been more wrong. There was relatively few people, and the one I had been talking to and who I thought wold take me told me he had no place, which left me with very few options. It might have been better to ask in the morning, but it didn't occur to me. There weren't any European people, and since in the African ways it unthinkable a trip that long for free, I decided to pay what was being asked from me to go all the way down in one stretch up to the middle of Mauritania, the capital Nouakchott, and be sure to get the in few days with zero waits. That is how I decided to travel with Kaba in his truck, a Malian guy who was travelling packed with merchandise to resell in his town. The first part of the trip, on the highway, we weren't going so bad, 80km/h as I would have expected, and on our second day we even reached 100! But before agadir there is a ramp that in order to climb it we had to go at a speed of 20 km/h. And at that amazing average speed of 60 km/h it took us 4 days to reach the border.

The Station on the Highway
The truck´s cockpit
     The first night
La primer noche dormimos en el suelo al lado del camión en una estación de servicio en la autopista. El camión parecía tener una pequeña pérdida de líquido de freno y el dueño decidió no arriesgar. Para la segunda recorrimos varios kilómetros pasando Agadir, y después de conseguir consejos profesional respecto a la pérdida de líquido de freno y de un almuerzo en Tiznit, paramos Guelmin y yo me negocié un precio barato para dormir en un hotel mientras Kaba se instaló como pudo en la cabina del camión. La tercer noche todavía nos tocó pasarla en otro pueblo, ya en los territorios de Sahara, Boudjour, y ambos dormimos cómodamente en la vereda al lado del camión; en este pueblo nos encontramos con otras personas que estaban en el mismo tipo de viaje que Kaba: bajando de Europa, con sus respectivos vehículos cargados de cosas,  yendo a sus pueblos para revender y conseguir una diferencia. Y la cuarta y última noche tuvo lugar al borde del país, justo afuera de la frontera que ya estaba cerrada; y como a Kaba le invitaron la noche de hotel, y para mí era muy caro, fui yo quién se acomodó en la cabina del camión para pasar la noche.

     Durante todo este trayecto de viaje, más de 1800 kilómetros desde Rabat hasta la frontera del lado Marroquí, transcurrió sin grandes acontecimientos durante los momentos en que estábamos moviéndonos en el camión. Kaba manejaba, normalmente silencioso y con cara de cansado, y yo me las ingeniaba para no aburrirme. Cada tanto intentaba hablar con él; la mayoría del tiempo me la pasaba mirando hacia afuera por la ventana y dejando a mi mente divagar, y también empecé a escribir notas sobre éste artículo del Blog, y algunos otros que se me iban ocurriendo. Lo único digno de contar nos ocurrió a unos 200 km de la frontera, justo pasando la ciudad de Dakhla, donde Kaba reconoció un auto que había visto en Rabat afuera de la embajada de Mauritania. Era una camioneta Citroën que dentro había una señora mayor, y nos contó que su hijo se había ido a dedo a la ciudad a conseguir una rueda de repuesto para cambiar una que se había pinchado y roto. Le dimos alguna fruta y agua, y con mucha pena la tuvimos que dejar ahí para seguir nuestro viaje.

Data: 80km from the border it is the last service station. And I was told that a room for two people, with hot shower, internet and wifi, was 100dh.  good option considering that at the border they ask 150dh per person for the room, and 40dh to sleep in a mattress in the floor in a common room.

     Getting in Mauritania, border number 1:

La despedida (o bienvenida)
 del Rey de Marruecos
     Not so early in the morning, with the general noise of people waking up, I got out of the truck and prepared myself to across. Kaba didn't give me many options, and told me to grab my pack and meet up on the other side of the border. Despite mi growing trust in that he would not steal from me, I had lent him 40 euros the other day and he had promised to give them back as soon as he got his bail back which he had left with Customs, so I didn't feel like separating much from him. I got to the border by foot, I filled the piece of paper with my information, I left my passport line up for me, like everyone else, and after a short time waiting I had finished the National Police's part. Kaba had barely placed his passport in the line. While I was waiting, he told me to go to the next stage and complete the registry of the Royal Gendarmerie, and so as to not argue I did tat stage and left the border post.

     No Man's Land is called the strait o desert between th exit of Moroco and the entrance to Mauritania. It is evident that neither of the two governments wants to take care of its maintenance nor of its infrastructure; nor its security. Despite that with day lights I feel safe, you can see the cars dismantled in the distance, and remains of home appliances and electronic devices in general that have been disassembled for other uses. The road is one of the worst in the world, at least that I have witnessed, with not a drop of asphalt, and very little consolidated ground, filled with holes between the big rocks coming out if the ground in the sand, some smooth an some sharp as knives.

En el camión con Kaba
     When Kaba got out of the border, apparently ignoring me, he moved his truck forward a couple hundred meters and got off. He didn't let me open the door to put my backpack inside. First he wanted to change money, and he gave back the 40 euros in 400 dirhams. Although with that exchange I was automatically loosing a 10%, I had already understood that for Africans in general that difference doesn't exist. The good thing is that for the guys changing money it does't either, and the change the offered me by the Mauritanian currency was the same as if I had exchanged euros.

Data: if you have the possibility, change euros at the official rate before getting near the border, and so you can win that 10% that they ignore.

     Having done the affair with the currency, I got my backpack in the van of a friend of Kaba and I got into Kaba's truck, separating for the first time from my pack. The road we drove at less than 10 km/h. Literally going slower that man's walking speed in some parts, as I was able to see with the uy that was walking besides us and would over pass us every other time. When we got to the entrance to Mauritania's border, I got off again to do he paper work on my own. I was going to meet up with Kaba outside the border post and continue the trip until the Capital.

     The first reaction of the gendarme that welcomed me to the country was to mistrust the fact that I had gotten off the vehicle in which I had arrived with and that I was crossing the border on my own. When I explained that I was just hitching a ride in the truck and that I was not doing all the trip with him, unwillingly signaled the office to which I had to go. In the inverse order as getting out of Morocco, the first thing was establishing mi identity with the National Gendarmerie, to whom I lend my Sistran's pen to fill in my information; and after that walking to the side of the National Police so they could put my inf in their computers. And much quicker and easier that I had foreseen,  was inside Mauritania.

     Kaba seemed to be coming and going, fighting with the paperwork, so I sat down to drink a tea with some cookies, since I had had nothing for breakfast except an apple hours ago. But a few moments after a guy that was helping Kaba with the paperwork, asking me to go with him. Kaba asked me, not without beating around the bush, to lend him 50 euros to b able to get his truck in, promising that afterwards he would pay me back more than he asked for. I was very concentrated on the amount of money that this trip was costing me, and loosing the difference of the exchange rate wasn't something that interested me; but option I had none, since with no truck I had no transport. I lent him the euros and sat down to wait for him. When he was finished, like ignoring the favor I had just given him, he didn't tell me in any way to put my backpack in the truck, and almost only by chance asked me if I had eaten anything, because he was going to sit down to eat something. We sat down to eat, and we shared our last meal together.

     Some pictures from the road:

Mountain road
Those who cross the roads

Entering Boudjour 

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     That is how I got inside Mauritania. I still had some day and a few adventures more befor being able to yell "Victory" in my trip to Senegal; but lets leace something to read another day.

Leave your comments if you feel like it, and don't hesitate to ask if you are thinking of doing anything like it!

Regards from Mama Africa,
See you around the world!