Trans Africa Expedition update - Morocco & Mauritania

Over the next few weeks Nev & Kristy our crew running the Oasis Trans Africa expedition along with a few of the group will be sending their tales and stories of their adventures.

Starting Day, 6th November 2011
The trip departed the UK in early November 2011, but for many the excitement and preparation had begun a full 12 months before.

In early October Kristy and Nev arrived at the UK office and began the mammoth task of scrubbing the grime off the previous Trans truck and kitting out the larder with thousands of cans of tuna and beans etc. before making the slow journey by boat and road to Gibraltar.  Here the 24 Oasis Overland travellers had gravitated, resplendent with clean clothes and freshly shaven faces.

The standards were set; the group arrived to find their tents erected and pegged, zips fully functional and a dinner hot on the table, courtesy of Nev and Kristy. The newly formed group exchanged pleasantries and mingled over a few beers.

Awaking the following morning, or arising, for those who had not slept, having discovered that first night that among our fold there existed two Olympian snorers. The group spent time stocking up on a few personal supplies for the adventure that lay before them and then fully stocked, we set sail for Africa. 

MOROCCO – By Kristy…..
Winding through the blue and white alleys of the ancient medina city of Chefchaouen, we stumbled upon sheep-slaughtering day. Whilst side-stepping the decapitated skulls and sheep-skins drying in the sun, we encountered our first financial difficulty, a lack of money-changing facilities and ATMs on a public holiday. Fortunately for us, the curio sellers were out in force, Jelabas in abundance, and the tagines were hot and spicy. Money-changing overcome, the second difficulty was the lack of produce available in our very first cook-group shop. With the assistance of a 10-year-old boy, and a keen willingness to adapt the menu, we overcame the challenges of a market where the produce still had heads, the meat only too fresh and the vegetables anything but.

In the ancient city of Fez, following the capable trail of a jelaba clad Kalum, our local guide, we got lost in the winding alleyways of the historic medina, the tiny streets overflowing with ramshackle stalls made of rickety tables and baskets, piled high with olives, oranges, nuts, nougat….. and snails! Following a path through a rabbit warren of handmade leather goods, in all shapes, sizes, and colours of the rainbow, we emerged onto a balcony overlooking the famous tanneries and were immediately confronted by the rancid stench of rotting flesh.

Overcoming nausea just long enough to snap a few piccies, we proceeded through the maze of uneven floored alleys, snaking our way past darkened markets peddling scarves, spices, tagines, tea sets, tapestries and Bedouin fertility rugs! Bonding began here in the form of enforced nudity during a visit to experience a local hamman, where local women (or men for the men), scrubbed our skin raw, in an unmissable foray into the local culture. We dined on local fare, shopped till we dropped, and were entertained by the undulating rolls of flab of local belly dancers.

Next stop Rabat was not nearly as exciting a place, but an obligatory stop in order to obtain visas to Mauritania, Mali and Burkina Faso. We spent 5 nights there bushcamping…..

Then after an afternoon meandering the rocky remains of the ancient Roman city of Volubilis, the rains found us in Meknes. Here we shopped local, avoiding the thunderous rain and inhaling the aromas of colourful spice piles, fresh plucked vegies, and dangling cow carcases lining the narrow market streets. Here too we had our first real experience of local drivers, surviving harrowing journeys in aging leopard print interiored Mercedes Benz taxis through olive groves back to camp. The rain continued in Casablanca, where visas for Senegal were tried and denied, and where the cocktails were flowing at Ricks Cafe. By the time we hit the Atlas mountains the rain had turned to snow, and it was so cold that the washing up water froze. Todra gorge was hiked in waterproofs, and bushcamps were abandoned for walled local campsites as gale force winds blew the chill, and tents, sideways. By Marrakesh the weather finally calmed and the skies again blued. As our washing at last got a chance to dry, we again lost our bearings wandering the dimly lit but vibrantly stocked alleys of the Marrakesh souq, haggling over pointy toed slippers of the softest leather, hand moulded tagines, and patterned silk scarves. Here at last we encountered fellow foreigners, having for almost three long weeks felt the isolation of the little known places we have travelled. By day we watched snake charmers, and by night we sampled dish after dish of such horrifying delicacies as snails, tripe, tongue, eyeballs and brain in the night time street markets, where the table cloths were plastic and  touts vied for our business. We hit the seaside again in Essaouria, and as the sun continued to shine, made our way south through the Western Sahara, where only fuel stations and the odd camel market broke the monotony of the never ending sand.

We departed from Morocco into Mauritania with a seven hour border crossing where the truck was x-rayed, searched by sniffer dogs and boarded by inquisitive border officials who all seemed to want to take a look inside the big yellow truck. Nothing having been found, we set off across the rutted, pot-holed track through no-man’s land with an escort as it would not be wise to stray into the maze of land-mined paths that criss-cross the area.

We all had a sense of trepidation about entering Mauritania given that it was on the FCO warning list but everywhere we went we were so well looked after that our concerns soon faded. The day after arriving we had a mammoth drive day from Nouidibou in the north to the capital Nouachott in the south as it was not safe to camp anywhere along the way. The landscape was desolate, skies were huge and people few and far between. We drove alongside the iron ore train which snaked for miles, taking its load from the mines in the east to the coast. Police check points were frequent (but welcome as it was clear they were for our safety rather than a money grabbing opportunity for corrupt officials). We arrived in the late afternoon to our campsite in the sleepy capital where we pitched our tents on the roof.

Mauritania was the place where we all first brought out our mosquito nets and slept under the stars, we experienced our first truck floorboard specials (tinned or dried food)-(the highlight of which was the spam risotto) and we discovered incredible greasy burgers and milkshakes round the corner from our camp ground in Nouakchott. The last night in Mauritania we had an armed police guard all night as they were concerned for our safety but thankfully the night passed without incident and we headed off to our next country – Senegal.

Look out for the next episode and many more tales and adventures to come from Africa soon!