Senegal

The Kiffa Trip

Day 3

  Bakel towards Kiffa   

Mauritania

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Bakel is a small town on the Senegalese side of the River Senegal ... the first major crossing-point for passengers ( no vehicles ) over to Gouray in Mauritania. Having arrived as darkness was rapidly falling, we entrusted our fate to the very pleasant driver of another "Renault skeleton local taxi" to take us to the best / only hotel in town. En route, at a stop for petrol, he led us over to the crest of a hill and we looked down on our first sighting of the
River Senegal and the village of Gouray in Mauritania on the opposite bank.

At the
Hotel Islam, with jovial owner Mr Njie, we received a warm welcome .. evidently many itinerant travellers, such as ourselves, stay with him and his family on the way to Mauritania. In the middle of undergoing a refit and redecoration .. basic facilities were soon coaxed into life and despite the wet and sticky, bright blue paint on all surfaces ... lack of door handles and locks in our room ( again, security is unseen but effective and village people are, by-and-large, very honest ) we had a comfortable night with good food. Hilarious entertainment late into the evening, was provided by Umi and her family.
Thanks Umi .. our sides are still aching with laughter.

Bakel benefits from constant electricity, a chance to stock up with essentials for the onward journey and a very friendly population.

Bright and early ( well early, anyway ! ) we walked down to the crossing-point .. passing the Bakel Laundry .. and hired one of the long pirogue water taxis to take us over to Gouray.

Gouray is a tiny village with a small market, a few provision shops offering little choice,
a Police and Customs post and a small Taxi-Garage for onward journey connections.
First time visitors to Mauritania should stock up on the basic essentials of items of food, drinks and cigarettes etc., that they are familiar with, before leaving Bakel.

Having completed Immigration formalities of passport and papers being lengthily scrutinised and eventually stamped, we were ushered over to the Senior Customs Officer to give an account of our intended journey, moneys brought into the country ( which have to be listed and signed for in yet another office ) and taken to a local shop to exchange our CFA ( Senegalese currency, easily obtainable at a reasonable rate of exchange anywhere in The Gambia ) into Ouguyia ( Mauritanian currency .. pronounced "ugeeya" .. which  is almost impossible to obtain outside Mauritania ). A receipt should always be obtained for any exchange transactions and retained for inspection when you leave the country.

That crossing a few metres of water makes so much difference in the habits and customs of peoples, separated by such a short distance, is amazing. In Senegal, The Gambia and countries further South .. as a traveller, one is met with broad smiles, tons of extraneous chatter and the firm conviction that nothing, but nothing, is ever any problem !

 Mauritanians, especially those in authority, have the North African / Arab initial approach of complete seriousness, rigid adherence to the rules and a straight face. All the problems are pointed out first and the solutions come later ! Don't be put off by this, seemingly, unfriendly attitude. Experiences in Morocco and Tunisia have taught me that these people are every bit as friendly and helpful as their counterparts further South .. and so it proved to be with all the Mauritanians we met throughout our journey. They really are super people .. it's just that their initial approach to strangers is not so open and smiling.

The local dress changes from the brightly coloured tie-dyed and batik in Senegal to lightweight pastel coloured material for the ladies and incredibly wide lengths of mainly blue or white heavier cotton for the men. These "kaftans" stretch at least from fingertip to fingertip, when opened out, with a deep centre pocket and everything from plain stitching to ornate decoration, depending on the cost and the occasion. The male ensemble is completed with very baggy trousers and a few metres of cloth wrapped around their heads for protection from the heat and the very fine, sandy dust.

Having found our transport, this time a fairly modern Mitsubishi 4 wheel drive pickup, for the next leg of our journey, a short distance to Selibabi, we found ourselves with a few passengers in front of us and were "ticketed" for a "seat" in the rear. Assured of only a short wait before departure by the enormous, but friendly, taxi-controller .. we settled down in the shade .. sharing the boiling water for making our coffee, which he was brewing on a wood fire and studying our future travelling companions as eagerly as they studied us.

As the hours went by, repeated requests as to "Are we full yet ?" were met with "Soon, soon my friend". The hottest part of the day bought with it the realisation that more bottled water was not available, fruit was an unknown quantity, apart from a few scrawny oranges the size of hen's eggs .. and no one was in a hurry to go anywhere. I was happy to "eat my words" and apologise for all my complaints about hauling heavy bags of full-sized and luscious oranges, all the way from Brikama !

The idea that a suitable purchase of some material for a Mauritanian head-dress for myself .. would pass the time and probably come in useful .. lead me to retrace my steps to the local money changing shop, which was Arabic speaking only .. attempting a first purchase with my new currency and no Arabic. Sometime later after a lot of sign-language and not a little amusement amongst the family running the shop, 2 metres of black, Chinese polyester material had been purchased, quite cheaply .. and lessons partially learnt in how to wrap it securely in place.

On emerging from the outfitters, now a "proper  Mauritanian" and adjusting the wing mirror of the nearest Landrover to achieve a more "Lawrence of Arabia look" ... I was met with a barrage of laughter from the assembled crowd of people which one usually finds, waiting in the shade at most crossing points !!

Some of my new audience actually fell back off their log seating in hysterics.
They reckoned that it was the best entertainment they had had for years !!

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