Week 12, The crossing to Africa, Christmas for one in the Riff Mountains & fighting for a Mauritanian visa! TOTAL 4434 KM (country #6)
Apologies for the delay on the posting but internet facilities do not always coincide with the blog’s weekly publishing schedule, a couple days off the pace which is no major train smash I hope, something we may have to become accustom to as the ride continues through less connected parts of Africa.
The laborious seven hour ferry crossing from Malaga to Melilla in North Africa served as the end of a chapter for this ride, Europe was done and Africa beckoned. 33 Euro to cross the Mediterranean and arrive… wait for it… you guessed it, back in Spain. Melilla is a Spanish enclave no more than a few km’s wide, a small port town in Africa still under Spanish rule, they speak Spanish, there is a border crossing to Morocco and they use Euro’s, 100% Spanish, a rather peculiar but very real scenario.
I arrived at about 10pm and the rain was hammering it down so I slept in the Melilla ferry terminal under some rather bright neon lights for my first night on “African” soil waiting for day break and the rain to subside. Rolling out the ferry terminal would not be a dry affair as the rains continued to pound the pavements and the notorious Moroccan winds were starting to make themselves noticed. Heading in the direction of Nador to cross into Morocco at the border crossing of Beni Enzar, travelling on a South African passport will require a visa, travelling on a UK passport will not.
After about an hour and a half of jostling and queue jumping antics I finaly managed to squeeze my way to the front and was issued with my 90 day stamp by a fairly sullen looking immigration official. I was keen to cross the Riff Mountains which would take me up and over 2000m above sea level so I followed the route from Nador to Driouch and onwards past Midar to the small village of Kasita. At Kasita you can hop on the R 505 and head up through the Riff Mountains towards Aknoul before the long, wet descend to Taza.
Christmas was spent in the tent about 30 km north of Taza with a Christmas dinner consisting of a packet of chocolate biscuits, a stale single serving sponge cake and a cup of soup to wash it all down. If you ever cross through this region and intend on camping I would recommend against it as the ground is completely saturated due to all the water running down through the valley from Aknoul towards Taza, and it is extremely difficult to find a spot to pitch where you are not ankle deep in mud.
From Taza to Fes the road has a pretty tight shoulder and after losing my cool a few times with Spanish drivers in Europe, I would happily trade for them any day of the week as the tight shoulders and governing of trucks with Moroccan drivers than just don’t seem to give you much space on an already tight road can be a tricky affair.
From Fes onwards towards Meknes and then Rabat is more of a thoroughfare and the roads are in very good condition, the shoulder fluctuates but quite manageable compared to the roads leading up to Fez. My last day on the road before reaching Rabat the capital, I would again get caught by the setting sun that seems to fade really quickly after 5pm and by six o’ clock it’s completely dark.
Again searching for a dry patch to pitch my tent after 3 days of rain, I was called over buy a young Moroccan lad that was working in a field, he was the security guard for some building materials that he had to keep an eye on and invited me to pitch next to his tent a rather more lavish structure than mine kitted out quite nicely I thought. He made dinner for us as he smoked his pipe, Moroccan soup and flat bread, we sat on the floor of his Bedouin style tent and spoke of football the only common tongue we shared as my French and Arabic are unfortunately not up to scratch.
I arrived in the major city and capital of Morocco, Rabat for only one reason, to obtain a visa from the Mauritanian embassy, the next country en route. To acquire a Mauritanian visa in Rabat you will require 2 passport photos, a photo copy of your info page in passport, a photocopy of your entry stamp into Morocco, 340 Moroccan Dirham and two shovels of patience.
In all my travels I have not seen such a ridiculous set up, the door opens at 8am but I advise you to be there by 7am to get a good spot with all your documentation in order, you will receive a form on arrival but make sure your photos and copies are sorted as the doors close at 11am and if you are not through you will have to repeat the process the following day. There is only one official dealing with about 100 people all pushing, pulling and jostling the queue to try and get in before cut off, the form is in Arabic and French so bring your dictionary or don’t be afraid to ask who ever and however you can to make it happen before 11.
Be prepared to push, pull and elbow for your position in the queue or you will not be getting your visa this I can assure you. If you manage to get through by 11 am you will be issued with your visa at the same location the following day at 2pm, The easiest way to get there from central Rabat is Follow Mohammed 5 up the hill, the grand Boulevard in the center towards the large Mosque at the top of the hill turn right into Mohammed six, continue for about 4 km’s and the embassy is sign posted on your right hand side just after a petrol station , Senegal and Mali consulates are in the same area if needed, may the force be with you.