“Here’s to alcohol. The cause of and solution to all of life’s problems.” – Homer J Simpson
IT is perhaps unfair on Mauritania that our race to the border had pretty much the entire truck willing Steve to put his foot down and start the bureaucratic ball rolling well before the reported early closure time.
Our desire to get to Senegal had us all up, packed away and sat on the truck well before the scheduled 6am departure.
The lure was quite simple – a bar full of ice cold beer on the other side of the border.
Not that we need a drink you understand. We functioned perfectly well without a single drop in Mauritania and with very limited (and expensive) options after the first few days in Morocco.
But the prospect of sitting down and relaxing with a cold beer has been growing, along with expectations of what was lying over the Senegalese border, as our enforced abstinence went on.
By our last night in Mauritania, even wandering over the road to buy a Coke and attempting to get rid of our remaining ouguiya produced a frisson of excitement.
That is selling Nouakchott a bit short. There’s not a lot there and what there is is in need of some serious TLC. There certainly is not many places to spend those Ougs – the odd soft drink and trip across the road to Ali Baba’s burger joint accounting for most of the expense.
But the welcome we received from the locals was almost universally warm from people not used to too many tourists walking through their markets and streets (one money changer stopping me just to talk about his two-hour layover at Heathrow).
Still, the lure of what lay ahead ensured we were itching to get back on the road south as soon as our Senegal visas were safely stamped and secured in our passports.
And we could almost taste the first cold beer as our dash to the border before it closed – reportedly at 2pm, but that seemed to get earlier while we were there – headed on to the final few kilometres through a national park.
From the arid, largely dusty, sandy landscape of the previous week or so, we suddenly had greenery, water and plenty of wildlife – mainly feathered, with the odd warthog thrown in – to watch as the miles rolled by.
Not that quickly, mind you, as the roads were little more than tracks, but there was plenty of high spirits as we, almost to a man, stood, watched the passing scene and snapped away happily.
More alarmingly, she was resting at an alarming angle and we were piling out of the back in a hurry.
Quite what Steve said as he surveyed the situation is not repeatable, but his attempt to miss a series of bumps that would have given us some serious air time in the back had seen the left side wheels catch the softer earth and be dragged in.
As Steve surveyed the situation and we tried to sneak a few shots without him noticing, the occasional passing local stopped to offer a mixture of advice and stating the bleeding obvious, until one van driver pulled up and insisted he could help.
One look at his van had us worried about its future if his offer to pull us out was accepted, but as we cooked in the heat, options ran out and the clock ticked towards the closing of the border, which was looking the most likely spot for us to pitch our tents – if we could get out of our current hole.
So with Nala hooked up to the rickety van and a group of us adding a bit of extra weight with a shove, Steve gunned her into life and, thankfully, she shot out of her sticky spot and back onto all four wheels.
Stopping briefly to rustle up some remaining Oug as a thank you (for some reason, our offer to trade Ale was not taken up), we raced back on to the truck and Steve took the direct route over any remaining bumps – one bit of hang time producing an uncomfortable landing on a seatbelt holder.
And with everyone concerned on both the Mauritania and Senegal borders keen to get home at the end of the day, we were through in pretty much record time and, via a quick stop to change money in St Louis, headed to the promised land at the Zebra Bar.
Run by a Dutch couple, it provides an oasis for the tired and jaded overlander – beach, calm estuary to swim in, wi-fi (ish), showers (who cares if they are cold when it is that hot?) and even western toilets.
Plenty of ice cold beer.
The race to be the first at the bar (not including Steve and Joe, who didn’t even pause to let us off) may be the only won by me on the entire trip.
Wish this next section could report on a couple of days and three nights crammed with activities and excursions into St Louis, but no.
Others did make it the few miles down the road for one reason or another, but the bulk of the time was spent relaxing around the campsite, complete with resident monkey, the beach, in the water and at the bar.
And behind it, as we helped ourselves from the fridge, chalked up another tally on our tabs and considered doing something a little more energetic.
And it’s the thought that counts, surely?