Sunday, December 12, 2010

Piste de contrebandiers

One of the French invites us to throw our luggage into his 4WD and ride a track to the Diama Dam border crossing to Senegal, along with 3 French bikers. After having made sure that the track is not too difficult, we accept. After all, the border crossing through the ferry at Rosso is known to be a pain in the ass and best to be avoided. Néness, Régis and Michel pick us up at the camping ground with their Suzuki DRZ’s and Yamaha WR. They are clearly not playing in the same league: enduro helmets, clothes and bikes. Not to mention their 20 years of experience. A bit shaky, Isabel and I follow them when they take off with an impressive wheelie. Luckily, the first 100km are tarmac and they can hardly keep up with us. In a tiny village, we choose a track leading towards the coast. Before arriving at the coastal dunes, it enters a sandy scrubland, where tracks are crisscrossing towards the south. This is not what we had in mind. Isabel tries to avoid the soft sandy stretches by making detours, while I am struggling to keep my speed up and float over the sand. I’m not doing so badly, but Isabel is going slowly as a tortoise. By now, the 4WD has disappeared on a parallel track and the motards are far ahead of us. We have but covered about 10km since the main track, and I am already running out of water while waiting for Isabel. She too is overheating and shows some signs of fatigue, with at least another 60 or 70 kms to go. I leave Isabel resting in the shadow of a thorn bush and find the others some kms ahead. They have stopped because one of the Suz’ has lost all of its engine oil and has to be pulled. I can hardly imagine what it means to pull or be pulled in this terrain. They assure me that they cannot go very fast now and will wait for us.

I rush back to Isabel and we continue to struggle, but it is only when Michel suggests to switch bikes with Isabel that we really find a way out: I am astonished to see Isabel take off with the small Yam, daring to open the throttle and speeding it through the sand. I even have difficulties following her now. Fatigue is bothering me, and I drop the bike while trying to keep up with her. The Tenere ends uphill in a scrub and the fork is a little twisted. I don’t pull it anymore. Very ashamed but with as much relief I accept Régis’ and Néness’ offer to jump on the pillion seat and get a ride to the 4WD.
The 4WD is awaiting us at the beginning of a gravel track. From here, we will be able to speed and cross the border before it’s closed at 6PM. We are joking about the problems we’ve encountered, but everything seems solved now: the oil spill was because of a loose nut on the gearbox axle and it’s already been fixed. The gravel track leads to a fishermen’s village, though, and soon we are once again in the same kind of sandy tracks that are most often used by smugglers, as we are told later on. It goes on and on, and although the swampy grasslands are a fantastic view, hiding warthogs and thousands of birds, we are getting very very tired.

Although she was going really fast and smooth before, Isabel is having a hard time now and drops the bike a couple of times, braking the clutch lever in one of the falls. It’s clear that we cannot continue like this. We decide that Michel will take Isabel on the back of her own bike to look for the others and return with another pilot, leaving me behind with my Tenere and the lighter WR. I’m desperate for some rest, too. It gives me enough energy for the last part of the ride, just before sunset. We meet the others not far from where the main track towards the border should be, but they are having mechanical problems once again (the gearbox axle has broken on the far side of the front chain wheel). The three of us try to prepare a makeshift campsite for the night (little water left, no food, no shelter, but enough wood to make a bonfire), while the other two will try to find the 4WD and the main track. Half an hour later, we are delightedly surprised to hear that there is a three star lodge just 3 kms from here, where the 4WD is waiting for us. I’m riding the WR now, and it is indeed a world apart, even without a clutch… Sadly, we are still in the Islamic Republic of Mauritania, otherwise we would have enjoyed a large can of beer at the lodge. The chicken has never tasted as good, though. Cheers to our French companions, whose patience and skills enabled us to live this great experience! Everybody is drop dead tired and in no time we are all sound asleep.

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