|Nouakchott is as ugly as sin, as dusty as hell and as dirty as the devil, It's almost a religious experience being here.
There is some sort of saying about not building on sand, well Nouakchott is a city and Mauritania a country that seem to be entirely built on sand. There are no sights to see in NKC and not really much to do but I did actually quite enjoy my time here nontheless. After my dusk arrival by bush taxi, another nightmare of a journey but I'm not going to describe this one, I headed into the town as I was desperate to eat. The concept of pavement here is nonexistant, the sand track at the side of the tar road is an extra road designed for going past the queues or going in the opposite direction or simply to try to mow down as many pedestrians as are stupid enough to consider it somewhere for walking. I found what looked like the poshest joint in town, somewhere just above Greasy Joes on the world scale but despite my expectations the plate of food that arrived was enormous and quite tasty. I managed to stumble my way home through the sand in the unlit streets.
I had to make a decision the next morning as this was the day that my transit visa expired, I could either head out or go to the Surite to get my visa extended. I didn't fancy the early start required to get out so headed off to the Office marked on the Lying Planet map. It was a long hot walk which I interruped to stay out of the way of a particulaly vocal demonstration passing down the main road, no idea what it was about but I wouldn't have liked to have been lynched if it was protesting about Geordie tourists in Mauritania. I found the office of the Surite, The National Security Service, where a man with a big gun told me I couldn't come in but then sort of pointed me in the right direction. A few more guns and vague points and I eventually found myself outside the offices of the Ministery of the Interior where a man with a table in the street took my passport and a couple of passport photos (I'm very popular these days, everyone wants my picture)and cleared me with security to go in. The building was very remeniscent of S-21 in Cambodia, I was led past many offices including the Department of Terrorism Surveilance and was dumped outside the Office D'Estrangers. I filled in the form and paid my money and was told to come back at 3pm.
I decided to go back to my Hostel but realised once I got there that I had about 10 minutes before I had to turn around and head back. When I got back to the Hostel I was told that "my Netherlands friend" was there but that he wasn't there. As I thought that jan was already in town and I'd told him where I was going to stay I though he must have come to visit but left. Back at the Ministery I was allowed straight in this time to wander about at my leisure. I found my way back to the Stranges place but was told that the minister hadn't done his bit and to come back at 4pm. This wasn't long enough to really get back to town so I just found somewhere to buy a drink and sit in the shade. At 4pm I was told definitely 5pm by the guards downstairs, this was the "passport return time". At 5pm I was joined by a gaggle of French waiting for their passports and told to wait outside "they are nearly ready". At 6:30pm a man came bearing passports and I had my extension, one day of which I'd just entirely wasted.
When I got back to the compound Jan was sat in the garden (read sand with a path through the middle). The German truck had taken him past NCK and it had taken him all morning to get back. In the mean time an English lone overland biker, John, had turned up so I had company for dinner which we ate in the hostel sandpit.
The next day was to be another visa mission as we all decided to go and attempt to obtain Malian visas. After the false trail led from another Lying Planet map we eventually found the right embassy. It was already full of other people waiting to collect their passports, some of whom I'd encountered the day before at the Mauritanian Strangers Office, both Jan and John met people that they had previously met in other Embassies. I realised that as well as the main event of the tour of West Africa there is a secondary tour of all the Embassies on route.
This place couldn't have been more of a contrast to yesterday, the staff were very friendly, they had a comfortable waiting room complete with magazines dating as far back as '86 - Desmond Tutu was just made a Bishop, Pictures of Mandela were his old pre-prison immage and many a now dead dictator smiled from the pages. I filled in my form and paid my dues, John went of to get some passport photos done as he'd forgotten to bring any and Jan just sat around chatting as he's already got a Mali visa. I asked what time to come back but the guy told me to have a seat. Within 10 minutes I had my passport back with a one month Mali visa, when John got back they told his he should have left his passport and the visa would have been ready when he got back with the pictures.
We took the long route back via the Novotel for Jan to see if he could find anyone else to share a trip to the National Park which he was desperate to visit as it's a big place for birdspotters. Most of the Hungarians were there having a bit of luxury. Have I mentioned the Hungarians yet? There is a Budapest to Bamako "rally" going on and over 100 hungarian vehicles from motobikes through camper vans to trucks have been on roughly the same timescale for the last few days. I've been told that there is a bendy-bus somewhere but haven't seen it. John bumped into Chris, another Dutch lone traveller here and he joined us for lunch in a very posh (for Mauritania) fast food joint near the Novotel. He was planning to go to Saint Louis in Senegal the next morning which was also my plan and we sort of agreed to make the trip together. However after having lunch with him I really didn't like him and needed an escape route.
The escape route appeared that evening when Jan came back from another mission to find a way to the park. He asked if I wanted to go for €50, he had been offered a car and driver for €200 and was going to do it on his own but said that he'd like me to come along and would pay the rest if I put €50 towards it. I wasn't prepared to pay more than that for something I wasn't particularly interested in, I thought about it for a while and checked that Jan was happy with that deal then I agreed. I explained that I wasn't over impressed with Chris and was happy to find out that Jan and John hadn't liked him either. The agent came to do the deal for the car and driver and agreed to leave early the next morning which meant a late trip into town to source a black market money changer as all the official places were now closed.