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Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by anydavenow, Oct 20, 2018.
So thats why a few people have called me a Pajero. I dont have to wonder any more.
I felt as though we'd only just scratched the sandy surface of Atar and its surrounding Saharan beauty but we were all itchy to get back on the road. I was already behind my trip schedule overall and having ticked a very big box with the desert crossing it was time to get some kilometres under my belt and migrate further south. For their part, the second-hand explorers also had to recover the beleaguered Hilux from the desert and get all three vehicles to Mali to sell so they could recover their trip expenses, settle up with Abou and return to the various rat races that awaited them each back at home.
The plan was for me to convoy with Eric (the greenest of the crew) on the bitumen to the capital Nouakchott back on the coast and for the remaining three to pile into the Colorado and dash back out into the desert with the replacement hub that Abou had brought in on the bus. Considering that the Surf had never been sold in Mauritania and had a slightly different hub to the regular Hilux, Abou's achievement of sourcing this rare part was a testament to his ingenuity. Your average Mauritanian's sheer ability to hustle—to solve a problem with what we consider waste—puts the most educated Western engineers to shame.
The trip back was—initially—uneventful as we cruised at 130-140 km/h along a decent, straight road passing through the odd village and getting little relief from the sun by the hot, dry air.
At about the half-way mark, a little distracted and lulled by the straight and even road, I hit a nasty pothole and felt the familiar pang of the rim connecting with the sharp, back edge of the cavity. I took an optimistic beat, hoping that I'd gotten away without a pinch-flat, but alas my positive attitude wasn't strong enough to defy physics and the bike weaved and wobbled its way with a flat front tyre to a guided halt at the edge of a small village.
As Eric pulled up I got to work, ready to draw on my pre-trip investment in never shying away from a manual tyre change. Unfortunately, not only had I pinched the tube, but the valve stem had ripped out, making the tube irreparable. I chucked it in one of my panniers, pulled out the spare and got it in in fairly good time. We were back in action and had only lost half an hour or so.
Shortly after that, I started playing the second-guessing game with myself, worrying that the front wheel felt a bit squishy and not quite itself. Given my history of bikerchondria I tried to convince myself it was all in my head, but it got worse and I had to face facts—or rather flats.
I pulled over again, this time near a Gendarmerie post and got to work, again. It seemed that my spare tube had come pre-punctured for added inconvenience and I'd neglected to properly test whether it held air before I’d put it in. An assumption, but one which usually comes with a relatively low risk.
Another half an hour or so, and it was as if it had never happened (or at least I could almost make that claim). We got another few kilometres down the road and I started getting that feeling again. "Surely not," I thought. This time it must be in my head.
Alas, no. It seemed that my spare had not one, but two, complimentary holes in it and of course I didn't learn my lesson the first time and just test it before it went in.
This time however, things were a little different. Because I'd taken so long to admit that I was running on another flat (partially thanks to a very hard-carcassed tyre which almost made it unnoticeable) installed tube had now overheated and become a long, gooey remnant of its former self. The heat had also partially melted the inner surface of the tyre, making it rough and sticky.
For what would not be the first time on the trip, I found myself becoming highly infuriated with my own stupidity.
Eric had caught up to me by now and was happy to offer words of ridicule and amusement in between puffs of his ciggie and dips into the air-conditioned cabin of his car, but he changed his tune fairly abruptly when a group of youths started making their way along the road towards us, one (of about 14) with a large-calibre hunting rifle slung over his shoulder.
Not one to take Mauritania's history of tourist kidnappings too lightly, Eric made the decision to shift out of the character of roadside larrikin into something resembling a European football team manager two goals down in the final with five minutes left in the game. I was encouraged not to linger too long over the grave of my old tube and it was suggested that we "GTFO" of there before something bad happened.
As was typical in these parts, as the boys approached, we were treated only with curiosity and amusement—and of course offered help. The boys seemed oblivious to the effect the presence of their hunting tool was having on Eric's mood. Having been exposed to guns from a young age, the presence of a one in and of itself didn't automatically fill me with fear and it was much more about reading the body language of the individual holding it. They are almost never brandished—just carried as casually as a spade, an axe or (as I'd discover as I journeyed south) a machete.
I set about hatching a plan and decided I could probably salvage my original tube by patching the pinch and using some super-glue I'd wisely packed in my toolkit to secure the stem back in, hoping that it would hold until we got to the city. Having a problem in unfamiliar territory is always intimidating and I was certainly glad to have Eric's company (and the occasional donated cigarette, the nerves having well and truly overpowered my ability to resist that urge introduced so many years ago and one that never truly leaves you).
The stem held, thank god, and we trundled into Nouakchott at about 10pm and made our way to Auberge Sahara, which my iOverlander app told me was the spot to stay at and a long-standing overlander's haunt.
It wasn't quite what I expected and felt more like a Soviet hospital than a fun, adventure-travelling hub. On the plus side I found a couple of familiar faces there: Willem & Gea, the Dutch couple with their Suzuki Jimny and trailer that I'd met in Western Sahara. They had taken a real liking to me when we first met, Willem being keen on his bikes, and they were just as happy to see me as I was them.
Willem & Gea confirmed that Auberge Sahara wasn't what it used to be—they'd come through some 10 years prior in a massive Magirus-Deutz truck that they'd used as their first overlanding platform (having gone from one extreme to the other). Apparently, the hotel's landlords couldn't resist the temptation to kill the goose that laid golden eggs and had kicked the operators out and tried to run it themselves.
Luckily, the original Auberge Sahara had now relocated around the corner and rebranded as Auberge Samira, retaining it's old vibe and clientele. Given the time, Eric and I decided to hole up at the sterile Sahara for one night and if we ended up staying another we'd relocate to the more happening Samira the next day—it was well past dinner time.
We got a restaurant recommendation and after washing up ambled up the wide, brightly lit and sandy main boulevarde in search of sustenance (forget a beer—none of that in Mauritania). Not long after we took our seats and the many, attentive waiters scrambled to figure out which of the dishes listed on the menu they actually had the capability to make we were surprised to see the towering figure of Jens lumbering through the gate towards us—mission accomplished!
It was humbling to think that they'd managed to get across the desert, repair the vehicle, backtrack out to Nouadhibou and make their way along the coast to Nouakchott in the same time we'd done the direct route. It seemed like I really needed to practice my tyre changes more.
As it would turn out, I'd have plenty of opportunity.
First Flat - Or was it? Hard to keep track!
Second Flat - At least it's only in one part
Support Team - (Not the armed ones)
Hard at Work
Where's me dinner? - Settled on a salad and a milkshake—very Western
This thread is very inspiring!
Glad the salad in Nouakchott passed without incident, at least, after all your punctures. A brave meal choice....it was a meal in the (ironically named) Topfresh restaurant in Nouakchott that ended Jim’s trip south and forced him to turn back as we approached to Mali frontier.....
Glad to see you back posting ADN
Haha, that salad face though lol!
Well done on knocking off the Railway Piste, Dave. Good effort on a 990.
And interesting to see what Jens gets up to when he thinks we're not watching ;--)
I wonder what that nomad was arsey about round the back of Ben Amira - it's technically still RIM.
Maybe a warning of land mines which are said to be present there, so you did the right thing backtracking.
I was at the Barbas hotel myself last month. 'Surreal' is the word. They could make a TV show there. Can't wait to go back.
Looking forward to seeing how far you got.
Fyi, bissap is actually hibiscus flower juice. With enough sugar it's nearly as good as pomegranate.
They used to sell it in little plastic bags. Goldfish optional.
Was hoping to see Jens here in Aus for a big trip in a beautiful old Landcruiser he bought for the purpose and is waiting for him here, but unfortunately nobody can get in at the moment and I think the government's keen to retain its good report card when it comes to controlling the virus, so we'll see when we're allowed to interact with the rest of the world. Hopefully soon as I'm getting itchy wheels myself. Very jealous of you being at Barbas—such a "Star Wars Cantina", that place.
I'm actually almost certain (now) that the nomad in the Land Rover around the back of Ben Amira was servicing some high-end tourist camp or another. I've subsequently seen some photos on the Facebook page of one of the guides I met in Atar and it looks like they run "glamping" tours out there, so perhaps they didn't want their guests finding out that you don't need careful babysitting around those parts and can happily dodge mines on your 990 all by yourself?
Thanks also for the correction re: bissap—I remember that now! I'll correct the post accordingly.
I wonder if the Ben Amira glampers are this lot:
She mentions a raima stopover around there.
Le Point do some good trips in RIM and the owner (or founder) is a big believer in
tourism offering locals an alternative to signing on with some jihadist outfit.
Was just reminiscing elsewhere about my ex-Boulder goldmine BJ45 troopie.
Used a litre of oil every 100 clicks, but kept going for months and months all over WA and NT
until it disappeared in a cloud of its own smoke!
'Star Wars Cantina' sums it up just right.
Someone call HBO.
Well that approach might be working if the young men of Atar are anything to go by. Definitely a lot of status attached to "having a tourism business", even if that just means running around changing money for people or on-selling Auberge rooms at the roundabout.
I definitely have a Cruiser in my future (and my past, just sadly not my present). Perhaps Jens will donate the fossicker's 45 when he's done with it!
Regrouping in Nouakchott
Impressions of Nouakchott were good. A heaving, developing capital home to more than half of the country's population where Arab and African cultures meld and often clash. As sure as the wind blowing off the Sahara pumps in a fine dust that covers and penetrates everything, so too a steady stream of migrants flow in looking for a better life than the barren surrounds can offer.
With a median age of only 20 years and wealth in fish, iron, oil and gold I felt inklings of hope for this drastically underdeveloped country facing poverty, terrorism and poor governance. As always I was encouraged by the resilience, ingenuity and entrepreneurial spirit of everyday African people.
I'm sure my optimism was partially personal because I had overcome the dread that I had felt in my final days in Morocco as I prepared to head south into the unknown alone, additionally burdened by the oppressive fear of potentially failing an attempt at the railway track to Choum. Having since tackled both entering and virtually crossing this country so slandered in Western "travel advisories" I was feeling much more at ease, confident and open to new experiences. Picking up a crew of English-speaking rat-bags along the way had also made it all much more fun.
There was a bit of debate as to whether I should continue to tag along with the others and head east to Mali or go south to Senegal first and then do Mali solo. As I'd need a visa anyway Mark chaperoned me to the appropriate embassy to help with the formalities and (being the charmer that he is) we enjoyed a nice chat with the very jovial and somewhat enormous Malian ambassador—an educated and enthusiastic lady who was very keen to hear about our travels and welcoming of our interest in Mali.
As much as I was enjoying being part of a crew, I knew I had my own mission to be on and so in the end I decided to stick to the plan and make my own way to Senegal where I could also get a few more visas and some new heavy-duty tubes.
I'd been given a recommendation for a Senegalese tube supplier by Willem the Suzuki-driving Dutchman. A couple of days earlier he'd come across the finish line of some sort of desert race on a beach just north of the city. One of the competitors was a guy called Madou, who owned a bike shop in Dakar which was apparently the only place between Spain and Togo that would be likely to stock anything KTM-friendly. Willem had even kept a business card for me. Although I had by this stage managed to find a 21-inch "chambre" to replace mine with the super-glued stem, I wasn't hopeful that it would last all the way to Cape Town.
While waiting for the same-day visa processing (a treat!) I took a drive out of town with Mark and Eric to the beach that Willem had mentioned to see if we could catch any of the action. The rally had already packed up and shipped out and it was back to being a sleepy spot with a lone "tiki bar" hosting a few tourists and a stereotypical group of boisterous, wealthy Arab men (which, it seemed, had managed to get hold of some contraband alcohol, making them even more obnoxious). After yet another delicious meal of something and rice it was back to the embassy to pick up my visa and for everyone to get ready to head out the next day.
There are two border crossings between Mauritania and Senegal. The first, and largest, is a ferry across the Senegal River (where it dissects the town of Rosso) and is absolutely notorious. It is considered by some to be the "worst border in Africa"—a transport bottleneck through which land transport between Europe and West Africa is squeezed through two chaotic, corrupt border posts on either side of a small, rickety ferry that can only take a couple of trucks at a time packing all manner of cars, carts, people and animals around them.
I was going to opt for the reportedly much more laid back crossing over the wall of the Diama Dam, a small, quiet post further west which is generally out of reach of the trucks due to a detour along a sometimes muddy road. I was advised that this sleepy border post was much easier than Rosso. Although there is still some dodginess to contend with for those in four-wheeled vehicles (due to the creative interpretation of some Senegalese legalities) for bikes it's deemed to be OK and if you have the time to play "bribe chicken" with the officials you can even get through without any palm-greasing.
The boys set off for Mali in the morning and before leaving for Diama I went to meet Mohammed, the enthusiastic cyclist I had met previously on the side of the road in Nouadhibou when I pulled over to take a picture. I had been dodging Mohammed's WhatsApp advances for a few days and felt guilty that I hadn't made contact with his brother in Atar (Mohammed had insisted I stay there). Mindful that we were in the birthplace of the tourist-kidnapping industry, Jens had cautioned me against giving away too much information on my whereabouts to people I didn't know, but Mohammed had called me to express his disappointment so I felt I needed to split the difference and honour the second invitation.
Mohammed's driver met me near the city's sports stadium in a very non-Nouakchott Audi A6 (with an aptly cracked windscreen and a few scrapes and dings) and I followed him down the dusty streets to Mohammed's compound, a walled city block encasing his grand, palatial home, a peaceful garden and quite a number of attentive and professional staff.
I enjoyed a bountiful breakfast, seated on the ground in the traditional tent in front of the main residence with Mohammed and a friend of his—a large, robed man with a booming voice very keen to know what I thought of Islam and whether I had considered converting. Mohammed was dressed smartly in suit and tie, the lack of turban revealing a diminutive, bald man with an intense zest for life. He kept brushing his friend off and telling him to leave me alone, that I wasn't interested in such things and that I be left alone to speak (ie., listen to Mohammed). They squabbled over me while I enjoyed fresh eggs, olives, dates and camel milk from Mohammed's family farm near Atar—avoiding the graciously provided Western option of Corn Flakes.
Mohammed had recently seen a documentary on Al Jazeera about the culling of thousands of feral camels in Outback Australia. It had brought his father to tears, he said, and many Mauritanians were outraged at the fact that such beautiful, treasured animals were simply slaughtered from on high, their productive lives wasted and their valuable meat left to rot in the sand. He implored me to do something about it when I returned to Australia, and that he was ready to buy "up to 10,000 camels immediately" if I could orchestrate a deal.
By the time we'd sketched out our camel contract Mohammed was late for work so he and his friend were bundled into a car and we said our heartfelt goodbyes. I'd asked if I could stay behind and borrow a square of the courtyard to replace my tube which was done with curious oversight and assistance by the various staff members, fascinated by me with all my ridiculous accessories and enormous motorbike.
Mohammed's main driver, a lovely man named Hadrani, even brought out a tyre inflator which he hooked up to a 200 Series Landcruiser that he found in the driveway so we could inflate my tyre. With a keen crowd looking on as I finished my fourth Mauritanian tyre change it seemed the pressure had gotten to me instead of the tyre. I had obviously pinched the tube while fitting it—it wouldn't hold air.
Hadrani wasted no time in dealing with the situation and shepherded me and my front wheel out of the back gate and into his personal Corolla. We scoured the city looking for a replacement tube, Hadrani navigating his network of contacts with the cell-phone in his right hand and the streets of down-town Nouakchott with the steering wheel in his left.
It took a few visits to various little parts kiosks before we could find anything remotely big enough, Hadrani explaining that we needed a tube for a "DT", ie. something with a 21-inch front wheel. Once we found a supplier we bought two (Hadrani insisting on paying for them) and we stopped to have it fitted at a local “Michelin” (a fixture found along African roadsides everywhere consisting of a dodgy compressor that can usually manage about 30 psi, a pile of used tyres, some vulcaniser and a group of willing young men).
Having now used up the best part of the morning I acknowledged that it was unwise to attempt the border crossing with such a late start so I resigned myself to another night in Nouakchott and headed for a hotel, this time to Auberge Samira, the more interesting option with a hostel vibe, friendly staff, comfortable rooms and great showers. They also offered delicious local food or a kitchen for preparing your own food.
Lugging my panniers through reception I met Ibrahim, a dark-skinned, thirty-something local in turban and boubou (the loose fitting, blue khaftan that typically demarcates a have from a have-not) slouching on the couch with Ray Bans on reading an English paperback. I wasn't sure if he was a member of staff, the owner, or a guest but he seemed a bit nonchalant to be working there. He was charming and likeable if a bit too cool for school, but he spoke great English so I was happy to chat to him and answer his questions about where I was from, heading and what I was up to. I told him about my false start for Senegal and the tyre troubles I'd been having, and about Mohammed's hospitality and generosity, and that I was going to have another crack at Diama in the morning.
Ibrahim mentioned he was originally from Rosso and his family was there, but that he was in Nouakchott to deliver his unwell mother to a specialist for treatment. He was due to take her home to Rosso the next day, possibly, if the doctors gave her the all clear and so we would potentially be heading out the same way for a while. He said I was welcome to convoy with him to the Diama turn-off considering the tyre problems I'd had, as there wasn't much by way of civilisation along the road if I had an issue.
Things didn't quite add up with Ibrahim but it didn't really affect me so I brushed it off. He told me he was a policeman, and had a brother who worked in customs at Rosso, but Ibrahim didn't strike me as the typical African official who one would normally find overstating the little bit of authority bestowed upon them, rather than downplaying it. I thought he was probably just bragging and liked to impress Westerners with his Ray Bans and his paperback and his being a policeman and everything.
I spent a couple more minutes chatting guardedly to Ibrahim and then went to grab my laptop so I could sit up on the balcony and catch up on some correspondence and sort a few photos for the rest of the afternoon.
Up on the balcony, as I chipped away at my life admin, a few of the other guests came and went for snacks, chats, and cigarettes and I met some interesting characters in various states of travel including a backpacking couple, he Canadian and she Argentinian, who had been travelling for near on a decade and had done a long stint in Aus. The Argentinian seemed interesting and clearly enriched by the exposure to so much of the world but the Canadian was an airhead and may as well have spent the last ten years smoking weed with his buddies in a basement somewhere.
After the backpackers left me in peace I caught the attention of a big group of French travellers, apparently all relatives, who had flown in directly to Nouakchott and were doing some guided travel around Mauritania. I wasn't getting much work done, so I excused myself to my room for a little while, and on the way through I found Ibrahim still milling around and talking to the backpacking couple who were by this stage doing their own forward-planning on the borrowed reception computer.
Ibrahim said that he had heard that his mother was out of hospital and he'd likely be heading back to Rosso tomorrow. If everything went to plan he was going to give the backpackers a lift there, too. He'd arranged with his brother in customs to give them a hand with all the paperwork at the border and that if I was interested we could all go together. He said that considering the problems I'd had with my tyre, it might be better to go to Rosso despite its reputation because the road to Diama is remote and anyway I wouldn't need to worry about the corruption and grifters because he could ask his brother to accompany me through.
I wasn't sure about the offer, because I'd made a pretty unequivocal decision to avoid Rosso and go to Diama instead, but I thought that it couldn't be too bad if the backpackers were there, too. At least we'd be able to stick together and avoid falling prey to any tricks or traps in the worst case scenario, and in the best case we'd have a man on the inside to help us with the formalities. I said I'd have a think about it and retired to my room to get sorted.
Later that night, there was a soft knock at my door. It was Ibrahim. He came to tell me that the trip was on, and that the backpackers would be coming with us in his car. We were to leave at 6am sharp to pick up Ibrahim's mother and allow for the 200km of potholed-to-oblivion road with enough time to spare for the border formalities. Although I had my reservations I thought that as long as we three Westerners stuck together nothing terrible could happen.
It was worth a shot.
Nouakchott street scene - if you think the plastic in the ocean originated from your local Coles I have news for you.
A piece of calm - Ten minutes from the chaos.
Entering the compound - Being led into Mohammed's lovely residence by the Audi
Breakfast with the big men - humbled to be of interest to them
A pump and a prayer - Hopefully trying to inflate my holy tube!
Moto-mechanic street - Most trades operate in a set area of town, and this was the street for motorbike repairers
Michelin - Hacking away at my rim with screwdrivers and crowbars used in place of tyre levers
Auberge Samira - A photo with the friendly manager at Samira and "the Canadian"
I have a bad feeling that ibrahim isn’t what the holy prophet promised...
Oh the suspense.
Before dawn the next morning I was awoken by the now familiar call to prayer that echoed out across the city from the choir of rickety loudspeakers perched on mosque roofs and dangling from lamp posts. It was an eerie awakening being unsure of where I was, with the intertwining wails of the various imams reminding the population of their obligations to Allah. As was my ritual, I started the day with a healthy serving of anxiety, mixed with a bit of excitement and a sprinkling of disbelief.
I started packing and gearing up (my vestments more complex and less suited to the climate than those of my North African brothers) and soon came the inevitable tap on my door. Ibrahim was here and we needed to get on the road—apparently urgently. So without breakfast it was on the bike and off before sunrise, following Ibrahim's bombed out silver Corolla as he picked his way around potholes and obstacles (stationery, moving, living and dead), heading south along a shortcut through a densely populated suburb, ostensibly to pick up his mother. The Canadian-Argentine backpackers were dozing in the back seat—her head bouncing uncomfortably against his shoulder with the traversal of each significant imperfection in the road surface.
I needed fuel so we made enquiries at a number of petrol stations along the way, rousing many a dozing, young pump attendant, but it took six attempts before we found one that had any fuel to offer. The next stop was to pick up a woman but one far too young to be Ibrahim's mother. I kept anticipating that final stop, where I'd witness an older, possibly frail lady being assisted carefully into the car, but as we continued along the sandy, littered back-streets and out onto the main road to Rosso I realised that lady was probably a mythical one, no matter how much I hoped her to be real.
Despite some apprehension about Ibrahim's motives I had little time to think about them. The arduous road, of which possibly only half of the surface remained, required total concentration. Being on a bike normally has the advantage of manoeuvrability but on this narrow, ancient ghost of a two-lane road between the capital and the border the potholes are so severe and sharp-edged that on a bike as heavily loaded as mine the constant risk of bending a rim requires vigilance.
You also face oncoming vehicles swerving unpredictably into your path as they focus on their own battles with the patch of road surface in front of them, pressured to keep their speed up by whatever small economic prize encourages them to deliver the abundance of goods, people or animals that strain their tired chassis.
The rules followed resemble those of a waterway more than a road, with a class system determining right of way organised from trucks downward. The entire width of the road and both shoulders are available for negotiation and barter between oncoming vehicles of the same class, and is to be given without question to vehicles of a class above one's own. On a bike that can be a fairly humbling proposition.
I got into the rhythm of things and we put a couple of hours of slow progress behind us, the sun beginning to climb into the bright, clear sky and the Saharan heat beginning to rise with it.
Despite Ibrahim's assurance that his police credentials would enable us to sail through the numerous, normally tedious police checkpoints, most of the officers manning these posts appeared to have some difficulty recognising their superior officer (and ignored his half-hearted gestures to allow me through without interrogation).
Locals generally get waved past without having their papers checked, but a foreigner on a big, expensive bike needs to have their movements recorded carefully, lest they fall prey to Islamist kidnappers and create further reputational damage for the country. Despite his suggestion that I just stay close behind him and blow through (the backpackers slouched out of sight in the back seat) I wasn't game to irritate any well-armed, uniformed officials this early on in my trip so I stopped whenever requested, much to Ibrahim's annoyance.
Mid-morning, Lady Luck brought me my daily kick in the proverbials and I felt the front end wobble and squirm with the now familiar protestations of a tyre losing pressure. The part of my psyche that reacts to this particular situation was effectively fried by now, so as a matter of routine I found a relatively wide patch of flat ground next to the now busy road and pulled up to start the repair. In the dust and chaos Ibrahim had gone ahead, but I wasn't too fussed about catching up later as I could always nick off to the Diama border if we got separated.
I got the wheel off and discovered a pothole-induced pinch tear on the thin tube I'd bought in Nouakchott the day before. I patched it up with my thankfully well-stocked patch kit. Just as I was clumsily levering the tyre back on to the rim a huge refrigerated, modern semi-trailer pulled up in a cloud of dust behind me. Leaving the engine running, the driver jumped out and ran over to me, waving his arms excitedly and signalling for me to stop what I was doing.
It appeared that from about 100 metres back, whether by laser-sharp vision or some mechanical sixth sense, he had clocked me pinching the tube again as I wrestled the tyre on. He brushed me aside cheerfully, grabbed the wheel and tools from me and had the tube back out in about 15 seconds, holding it up like a doctor does a newborn and giving it a demonstrative squeeze. I was given a sympathetic if disapproving smile as the last remaining bit of air hissed out.
A few excited gestures and the odd common French word were exchanged and my spare "chambre à air" was extracted from the panniers. I watched in awe as he had the fresh tube installed and the tyre remounted within a couple of minutes, using mostly his hands and just a little tweak with one lever to get the last lip of the tyre carefully over the rim. He grabbed an air line from the truck's compressor and had my tyre pumped up and ready to go. I was impressed—and grateful.
As I started re-mounting the wheel Ibrahim turned up, having turned around to look for me after realising that I was no longer in tow. The backpackers were still asleep in the back seat and Ibrahim stood around sulkily while the truckie and I finished off the job. Ibrahim asked the truckie a few questions in Arabic and with a bit of translation I understood that he was Moroccan and an ex-motorcycle mechanic who had moved into the more lucrative profession of truck driving, this explained his incredible tyre-changing skills. Ibrahim mumbled to me out of earshot that I was not to give the truck driver any money (which apparently he was bound to ask for) and that he had warned the truck driver that he was a policeman so that he didn't "mess with me".
While we'd been working the truckie's offsider had fired up a little coal stove and was preparing some traditional, sweet mint tea for us all. In gratitude I sat with them for a moment and respectfully shared a tea, as well as some generously offered lunch of cheese and bread. Ibrahim refused both and remained standing a little way away to nonchalantly assert his self-assigned authority.
Despite Ibrahim's whispered warnings no money was requested and in parting only a big hug and a pat on the bag was given to me by my truck driving friend. We wished each other well with what words we could and as quickly as they had stopped and unpacked they were ready to roll again, both occupants skipping up the stairs into the cab and the still running truck roaring confidently as it built momentum over the rough ground.
A couple of hours later we hit Rosso—a small, crowded and dirty town with a rough edge and many a frowning young African man milling around on the main street—any hint of order having frizzled up in the mid-afternoon sun. We made straight for the border gate at the end of the main road into town (the same we've been on all day).
Ibrahim pulled up amongst a jumble of vehicles and jumped out of his car, introducing me to a rotund, scruffy man who had appeared suddenly next to me and placed his hand on the handlebars of my bike casually but firmly. This was the so-called brother, Mohammed the customs official, whose uniform consisted of baggy jeans slightly too long for him, a grubby blue shirt with too few buttons to conceal his belly and a pair of dirty sandals from which a set of well-travelled toes protruded ungracefully.
Mohammed was a big man—solid, rough around the edges and immediately aggressive. He looked and sounded nothing like lanky, charming and well-presented Ibrahim.
While Mohammed barked a series of confusing orders to me about where and how to park my bike Ibrahim quietly slipped away taking the backpackers with him. Mohammed insisted that I should come with him immediately and bring my paperwork and money to be changed. A few scowling sidekicks loitered near my bike and made not-completely-convincing gestures that indicated that they would watch it for me while I went off to deal with the "formalities".
I looked around for the now familiar, tall figure of Ibrahim and my backpacking moral support team, but they were nowhere to be seen amongst the teeming scene of cars, trucks, donkeys, goats, people, litter and dirt. With not a friend in the world or a working grasp of the local language, as Mohammed's orders became more insistent, I came to the realisation that I was all alone in the worst border town in Africa.
Police Escort - Sorry, a Corolla, not an Escort
Road to Rosso - Some of the many overloaded and overworked vehicles that strain along this stretch of road each day
Pothole or Road? - Optimists will say it's a road, pessimists a pothole
Moroccan Magician - A lifelong friend, never to be seen again
German Engineering - African testing
He's home telling the story, how bad could it have been?
That did enter my mind. Still good thriller.
Any chance the Carlos was from MotoXplorers in Lisbon?
What a good read! Stuck in lock down (all be it in my comfortable home) with a bad cough and the rain pouring down outside this really took me away on your journey. Thanks for taking the time.
I've thought about the west African route London to Cape Town a lot over the years. Still want to do it one day. I look forward to hearing more of your adventure....