In October 2014 after visiting Tunisia and crossing all Morocco to its southern end, I arrived in the Western Sahara, a territory annexed by Morocco. The place is desert and there are only a few scattered cities in the region. The city of Dakhla is where I spent most of the time as it is the most touristic place. Strong winds blow the throughout the year on its coast, being very suitable to do kitesurfing, a sport that I really like.

After a few days, I decided to go to Senegal. The problem is that I would have to cross two complicated boundaries. The first is the Western Sahara with Mauritania, which goes through a territory called “No Man’s Land”. An area disputed by Morocco and the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic. The second is between Mauritania and Senegal, considered by many to be the most corrupt border in the world.

In Dakhla, I arranged the price with a man to drive me along with other passengers to Nouadhibou, which is the largest city in northern Mauritania. The trip is only 430km, but lasted thirteen hours. Not because of the poor asphalt, but because there are thirteen police barriers to the border. Thank God I brought with me ten copies of my passport. So I would show the original document and leave a copy with the officers. Because of this, I saved ten minutes or more on each of the barriers, as they did not have computers, they had to write all the data on a sheet of paper.

In No Man’s Land, between Western Sahara and Mauritania

From the moment we left Dakhla until we reached the border, we didn’t see anybody other than the police. The region is one of the least populated countries in the world by population density. When we crossed the border, we entered an area called “No Man’s Land”. As the name says, this region of a few kilometers in length does not belong to any country and is completely abandoned. It was one of the dirtiest places I’ve ever seen in my life, and it has a large graveyard of cars for many reasons, whether it got bogged down, got stuck on the road or smuggled. As there is no road to cross it, we didn’t drive straight so we didn’t get bogged down in the sand like the other cars. I was a bit scared to be in this place without laws, but thank God again nothing bad happened to me.

When we arrived in Mauritania, we were fortunate to pass right in front of us the largest train in the world, which is used to transport iron from the mines. At night, as I entered the city of Nouadhibou, tired from the journey of spending the whole day in a very old car, with no air conditioning under the sun of the Sahara desert, I went straight to my hotel (very, very simple ) And I slept straight away.

Abandoned cars in No Man’s Land

After visiting Nouadhibou and the capital Nouakchott, I decided to go to Dakar, which is the capital of Senegal. They are only 550km away, but the trip took all day again because of the police barriers and the delay in crossing another border.

Leave Mauritania, from the town of Rosso was fine, the problem was getting into Senegal, which was the most complicated border I’ve ever been in my life. The place looked like an anthill. A lot of queues and people running all over the place. What helped me a lot in the crossing, was that I speak French and that I made friends previously with a person who has influence with the policemen who work in the place.

Biggest train in the world in Mauritania

 

I have already visited 17 African countries, and almost all officers have asked for bribe when I am traveling overland. This border was no different. The corrupt cop would not let me pass if I did not pay, especially since I was a tourist. I was angry. The officer held my passport for a few minutes and said to me, if you don’t pay, you will not enter. Then I said if I pay I want the receipt, and I also said that I am a journalist, if he was sure he would continue with this attitude. After these words, the police handed me the passport, but with an angry look.

After I crossed the border, I got into another car that took me to Dakar. As usual, I made friends with someone who was in the same car and ended up spending the night in this person’s house. This was just the beginning of my journey in West Africa.