Saturday, November 27, 2010

Western Sahara Mauritania and borders

After Sidi Ifni, we arrived in Gulemim- the gate to the desert. We slept near the road, surrounded by stones, faded and thorn bushes. Iin the morning we caught the greatest hitch-hike so far! Two Italians driving an old school camper (almost 21- years old) and their two dogs stopped and gave us a ride! Simone and Chiara- 25 years old were just like us, like the same music, have the same ideas and were also going to Senegal! On top of that, they had real Italian spaghetti and wine :) It had been long since we last had European food. We joined them through the desert, stopping for sightseeing and photos and had great time together.  The first night we spent at one petrol station in Laayoune. The next day we continued our trip with them and reached Boujdur, where they stayed at a camping and we slept on the beach. 

Our journey continued 3 days throughout the desert. Except for the several herds of camels and, though rarely, a car with some tourists, the road was absolutely empty. Infinite peace and quiet. The landscape was almost the same- long narrow road, from time to time stones and bushes or dunes, very occasionally an inhabited village and quite often policemen that had blocked the road. Every time we were asked the same questions- where we were going, what we were going to do there and what is our profession. They did not want to let journalists in Western Sahara because of the conflicts and fights there. A week before we arrived in Laayone, there had been a riot. The desert people protested in a tent camp, but the police and the army came, started shooting and then burned the whole camp. Nobody knows how many victims there were, the police claims 10, but the Saharians say at least 100. Some Portuguese people told us that helicopters and soldiers were shooting in the river, thinking there were more rebellions hidden inside. It must have been like a real American action movie, fortunately we missed it. 
With Simone, Ciara and their home

Police block is so popular that there are paintings on that subject

Stopping and answering stupid questions was somehow very wearisome, but we tried to fancy it as much as we could and laughed every time they asked the same thing. The policemen always wanted some kind of ‘fish’, we would then give them our passports and documents and the car card, but nothing helped! They just wanted that ‘fish’ and whenever they would say ‘fish’, we started laughing. We also laughed when another policemen asked for some wine or beer. However, it was not funny at all when the next uniformed wanted a bribe of 80 Euros because the international insurance of the camper did not apply in Morocco. We went to Dahla with the idea to make an insurance, but Eid Al Adha had just started and every family was to sacrifice a lamb and nobody was working. We decided to continue toward the border without insurance, it was only 400 km away.
Road block :)
The road through Western Sahara
Ничия земя-между двете граници

We arrived at the border at 4 pm, knowing that the customs officers would close at 6, and were in a hurry to cross it. From Moroccan side everything was normal- again we were asked for ‘fish’, then again wine. It was really long endless waiting in the heat. After 2 hours we left Morocco, the road ended and we found ourselves in nobody’s land- 4 km of desert and sand without any paths and ways. At that place no laws could be applied, it belongs to nobody and there is nothing! In addition, there were people living there , offering money exchange, and as we knew from internet, they would give us wrong directions, they would lead us into a sand trap and when the car gets stuck, they would want money to help and pull it out. When cars traces got split in several parts and we did not know where to go, all of them started screaming “Left! Left!” We did not know which way to go and we continued straight. Then a Mercedes appeared from the opposite side with a local guy inside who started shouting, but we ignored him and kept driving slowly along the uneven land. He got very mad and got off the car, and shouted that he is a police officer. We also knew that in Mauritania there were many fake policemen and we demanded an ID and documents. He pulled some crappy paper with his photo on it and then we were absolutely sure that he was not a policeman. Anyway, we drove after him and arrived at the border just before they were to close. If they had closed, we would have had to sleep in this noman’s land. Of course, the Mercedes man wanted some money, then he started yelling again, but we were too busy and drove as fast as we could to cross the border where we thought we would be safe. But there a real officer stopped us and yelled almost as bad as the previous one, pushing us backwards. He made us go back in nobody’s land for to give the Mercedes some money. We told Simone not to give anything to him, but he did not understand what was happening and gave the fake cop some 200 Dh (20 euros). We were absolutely furious!  It was really a lot of money for us and he just took it for 5 min! We got off the camper and told the “policeman” to return the money. It seems he freaked out and asked Simone why we had wanted the money back. Finally, we gave him 5 Euros and he returned the 200 Dh… which was fair enough. 
Strange desert plants
Marocan music

And there the real hustle started - men in uniforms and men without uniforms started asking for money, offering money change, hotels etc. The funniest thing was that at the border there was no electricity and the police officers were using flashlights to write our names in notebooks. Maybe that’s the reason why the border is closed at 6 pm. Everybody was amazed that we were Bulgarians. Some of the policemen in West Sahara have never heard of Bulgaria and asked us several times “Where are you from?”. At the border of Mauritania one of the policemen said, that we were the first Bulgarians he had ever seen, and that we were the first Bulgarians in Mauritania. After 8 we managed to go through all the counters and started for the nearest town - Noadhibu for the night. The moment we thought the whole hustle was over we were stopped by a police patrol and were asked for ‘fish’ again. We couldn’t understand what that ‘fish’ was and kept offering our passports, papers, but the officer wanted only ‘fish’. “You don’t have fish? That’s a big problem!” At the end we understood that “fish” meant a copy of our passport. All the time, on every check we were supposed to leave one copy of our passports! 
Fortunately we had a copy and after taking it, they let us go. Before leaving we saw how one of the copies was blown away by the wind and the policeman didn’t even try to retrieve it- that important the fish was. Exactly 2-3 kilometers from the first patrol we came upon another one and they again asked us for a “fish”. This time we didn’t have a copy so they had to write down the details from our passports. When we arrived in Noadibu we made 30 copies of our passports- to have for the whole trip. We stayed there for 2 days and then we continued to the capital- Noakchot. While traveling, there were many police blocks, but with the “fish” we passed quickly. In total we gave 15 copies in Mauritania. In Nouakchott we slept on a gas station. We couldn’t find any camping sites, nor could we find where the centre was. Everyone we asked gave us different directions. The city was big, chaotic, with one-storey buildings and lots of old Mercedes cars.

Coiffeur West Coast Yo!
Village in Western Sahara
Public bus in Neaukchott

On the next day we continued to Senegal with the camper. We didn’t want to stay longer in Mauritania, because there was travel alert because of recent kidnappings and we were advised not to go there. They even didn’t let us stop on the road, for our own safety. The last 50-100 km were a terrible- the road was terrible- full of holes. But the real nightmare started on the border in Rousso. The border was the river Senegal, where everyone was washing and bathing. We were swarmed by 10 locals, who wanted to help us with the papers. We wanted to find a police officer, so we knew what do to- there were no other cars, but ours. We found the police officer sleeping under his desk on the ground. He said that he would open after 3 pm. And it was only one o’clock. The local guys didn’t stop following us, trying to explain to us what to do and at the end they took us to the ferry to buy tickets. We didn’t have Mauritanian money (Ougia), so one of them paid for us and became our guide- big mistake. Two Germans arrived on bikes. They had traveled by bikes for 46 days from Munich. They were also attacked by the locals, but they managed to evade them and ignored them, the blacks were very angry at them and started calling them “Nazis, go away! Either pay or go away from here!” It was total chaos and there was no information. We had to pay crazy taxes for passports, taxes for the municipality, tax for the camper- in total 45 euro. Our guide came with us on the ferry and didn’t leave us alone. He wanted 145 USD! At the end, after lots of arguing and treats we gave him 55 euro and he left us alone. The Germans also had problems. They have given 10 000 ugia (around 30 euro) to the one calling them “Nazis”, on the ferry they were told that their tickets were fake and they had to go back and buy new ones. They stood their ground and had to push the officials and refused to pay second time. The biggest problem came after all this. Cars older than 5 years were not allowed in Senegal and to be allowed to pass we had to take a document from Dakar and to leave the camper at the customs. It was insane! At the end we stayed with the camper with the two dogs, while our Italian friends traveled to Dakar for the precious paper (720 km in both directions). When we saw the exchange rate of Senegal money (franks) we knew for sure, that the Senegal consul in Casablanca was corrupted! He took from us 50 euro for visa, but on the visa it said 20 euro (in franks). All those borders and all the bureaucracy were absurd! There was something totally wrong in the whole system. And as long as this system stays, corruption, lies and wars will never stop.

Mauritanian side of the border...
Senegalise side of the border...
Mauritanian kids
Senegalise kids...

The Senegal Ruso- on the other side of the river was the Mauritanian Ruso- is a little village. The poverty and misery were horrific. Everybody was bathing and washing in the brown river and then dried their clothes on the dusty ground. Most of the people were bare footed. There was no such thing as trash bins and as a result there was trash and garbage all over the village. Unfortunately we also were also made to contribute to the garbage dump as there was nowhere to throw our garbage. 

At the moment we are stuck in Russo and we are waiting for our Italian friends to come back from Dakar with the solution to our situation with the camper…

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Morocco 2

We managed to get Mauritanian visas for 1 day, but we were a little disappointed that their validity runs from the day of issue, regardless of the date you requested. Now we had to rush to cross Mauritania before the end of this month. Immediately after the Mauritanian Embassy, happy with our first visa, a car took us directly to Casablanca. For the first time girls stopped . They were two chicks bored from Rabat and decided to drink coffee in Casablanca.
In Casablanca
we meet cool guys. First, while waiting our host, we talked with one Swiss guy, who just arrived from Egypt. He said he came to work on a hashish farm. Actually he was only 18, traveling from 4 months and he had strange stories. We spent the evening with him and our new couchsurfing hosts - a photographer, two graphic designers and their friends. In the center of Casablanca  we were stopped by police who made problem to Walid (our host) that he had no right to hang with tourists because he was not a guide! We explained about couchsurfing, but they could not believe that there is such thing as free accomodation. Finally we convinced them that Walid is our friend and not a guide and they left us.
Casablanca is a big city – around 8 million people live there ( more then Bulgaria!) and after Fes and Rabat it looked like a different country. With modern shops and shopping centers, a lot of traffic...almost like Europe. The people were also different, just a few women covered their hair and most were dressed modernly. There were also parties and night clubs...
the largest mosque in Africa (Casablanca)

We spent two beautiful days with Walid and his friends – they made fire dance near one mosque in the neighbourhood, we played foot-bag until late evening and they made us our first dreads! We were already starting to look like Africans.
Our mission in Casablanca was to get visas from Senegalese Consul here. In the consulate they gave us two papers in French, which we tried to understand lng time. Nobody from the consulate, nor any of the dozens of waiting Senegalese knew English (there were no other foreigners, because only we and Romania need a visa! - the rest of the EU can go without a visa) We could not understand anything, but they took our passports and papers and after three hours we got a Senegalese visas for 50 euros per person! The price was a shock for us (we had read on the Internet that is 15 euros), but we had nothing to do ... except to learn French.
Senegal visa - 50 Euro, 3 months
Mauritania visa - € 34, one month
On top of that, the visa of the Gena had a mistake - the valididity was from 20.11.2010 to 20.02.2010! And when we came back to correct it, they put a stamp and wrote: from 20.11.2011 to 20.02.2010! Wrong again ... we gave up going back again ... we hope we don't have any problems at borders.
Then we headed from Casablanca to Marrakech, but the boy who picked us up invited us to his home near Oarzzazate and we decided to accept. We traveled with him more than 400 km, we slept in the middle of the road in the mountains at a restaurant and continued in the morning. (it turned out that many people eat and then sleep on the comfortable couches in the restaurants on the road and continue their trip the next day). The road was narrow with many turns, carved into the rocky mountains. Shortly after Oarzazat Rashid (the driver) went off the road and broke two tires. We changed one of them and Rashid took the other to nearest village by hitch-hiking, while we waited him by the car. A few hours later everything was fine, tires (with alloy wheels) were fixed with a hammer and we continued on the road.

happy on the road ...
shit happens...

Tagine - typical Moroccan stew cooked on the stove  with vegetables, olives and meat

While waiting for Rashid to return with te second tire one Tuareg talked to us, showed us the desert fashion and even invited us to stay in his village. Everyone is so hospitable here!
Братът на Рашид племенницата си

Rashid's brother ith his niece
The village of Rashid was a few kilometers dirt road away from the larger village and we took the bus - Mercedes 207D with 25 people inside. On one side of the village there was complete emtyness – only rocks and mountains, on the other side there was a river and some gardens.We felt like we are in the middle of nothing.
Rashid's family welcomed us like kings - with tagine and tea. Rashid had five brothers and two sisters (not counting the dead) ... really big family. Nobody spoke English except his younger brother. We explained that women do not work (except in the cities), but it seemed to us that only women worked. Baba (the father) was lying around all day and watched TV while the women broughed food and tea, and his wife (the mother of all eight children) went to work at the field even on Saturday. We spent two days in the village  with the good family of Rashid and again decided to go to Marrakech.
The child had not one toy! Playing with twigs, stones and whatever she found in nature and home...just one year old, but did not make any trouble while we were there and when she cried no one payed attention to her

The village of Rashid, almost nothing around...

Although they had not even a bathroom in the house, everyone had at least one expensive mobile phone
The cat (or mush - in Arabic)

Almost everywhere there are remains of old villages ...

In Marrakech we found the best so far couchsurfers at 1:00 o'clock in the night after a perfect hitch-hiking through the Atlas Mountains. They were studying in Marrakesh and they had guests for the weekend - their friends from other cities. The atmosphere was so friendly and cheerful that we stayed untill 6 o'clock in the morning. We spent three days in this company, they prepared typical local dishes, we walked in Marrakesh between monkeys, snakes and humans.

Maraksh is really touristic city but it is nice to see. The big square with dancing snakes, monkeys, fruits and restaurats, the small streets with shops for souvenirs, ceramics and all kinds of things.
The square of Marrakech
all things ...
Moroccan beautiful porcelain
We left Marakesh, afer we took food and water with the idea to spend a few days on a wild beach. First three boys took us to Agadir. They were smoking hashish and laughing all the time. The driver was so high that he diceded to hit a huge desert shrub on highway.The bush hit us really hard and broke the front sign of the car. We wasre quite startled by the shock, but fortunately there were no serious consequences. They left us in Agadir in the evening, where we slept on the beach under the surfs of a surf school. On the morning a guy drove us from the beach to the end of the city. There we met the second good Rashid – a Moroccan who lived in the U.S. for the last ten years. He invite us to drink tea in a cafe nearby and he wanted to spend the day with us. He had taken a rental car and we drove searching for wild beaches. First he took us to a beach that he knew. But the ocean was very angly and it was impossible to sleep on the beach without being hit by a wave. Everything else was stones. Rashid buyed us lunch and sweets and we continued to Legzira - the beach that we knew from other tourists. The beach was fantastic - a series of beaches separated by rocky arches. We stayed there and Rashid went back to Agadir.

The first day the ocean was so wavy that you could pass under the arch only by swimming. Overall, the beach was deserted, there were only a few small hotels at one end. But although small, the hotels made huge garbage that they threw on the rocks and dunes of the beach. We put our tent on a dune, a safe height from the waves, surrounded by a dumpster and we watched ho te pile of rubbish became bigger and bigger every day. From time to time, they burn the trash, but glass, metal cans and most plastics remained on the sand and when the tide came the ocean took part of the trash. The view was really sad, our hearts shrank to see this beautiful place so brutaly and ruthlessly spoiled. He wanted us to do something, anything to change this ... we could not understand how these people come, put their garbage on the beach and then go to pray.

On the third day a guy from the hotel came with a boy who had brought with him to translate and said it was forbidden to sleep in a tent and if we want to go to the hotel, otherwise they would call the police. Just what we needed to share what we think about their hotel and the piles of garbage they produced. We were so enraged that we said that we are protesting and that w would stay in the tent until they collect their garbage and they could call police, TV and anybody they want. After a day of thinking, however, we decided that we do not want to quarrell with these people and we went to the nearby village - Sidi Ifni-. Almost immediately a very cool camper van with an old Swiss couple stopped. They had traveld around the world withd that same camper. "The last time we were here in 1972 - said the man. "Wow, and has it changed since then -  we asked him. "Oh, we don't remember" was their answer:)  They were really cool couple and we stared to dream whether we will continue to travel like this at their age.

all day Czech paragliders were flying above us:)

We stayed one day in Sidi Ifni to wash our clothes and to write our blog .... And now we are ready to take over the desert ...