Crossing the Western Sahara Desert
Plymouth to Banjul in a Citroen 2CV by Lucie Mathiszig.
The next days prove to be fantastic fun as well as hard work. After we all get stuck at some point in the soft sand we soon get the knack of desert driving. Marigold proves herself and hardly gets stuck at all.
Other heavier cars are struggling more and at times sink deep into the sand. We soon are busy digging cars out, clearing wheels, positioning sand ladders and as night time falls make camp near a big dune.
The next day we cover even more difficult terrain with a number of very soft sand dunes to cross. Our guide thinks we are all complete idiots as he sails through these in his 4 wheel drive, we curse him as he manages to get us all stuck at one point.
We don't make it to the beach and have to spend another night in the desert but all nine cars are doing well and, even though it's hard work, we are having great fun too. We come across another group who had a much more difficult trip and has lost a number of cars in the desert.
The next morning we hit the beach. For us to continue we have to wait a few hours for the tide to go out and as everything and everyone is covered in sand, it is lovely to dive into the sea for a wash and swim.
The villages along this stretch are desperately poor and packs of children, begging, follow us everywhere, picking up anything discarded. At about 5pm we are ready to go and set off along the beach towards Nouakchott.
After the strenuous drive through the desert this is real fun and we all feel victorious and happy having got through the most difficult part of the rally. We turn off the beach at dusk and travel along a hideous corrugated stretch of road. Every thing in Marigold rattles and squeals and all of our carefully stashed away bits and pieces fall about in the back.
This is the road from hell but thankfully after an hour or so we finally hit the capital of Mauritania, Nouakchott. This is a large city with a population of nearly a million. The town looks very poor, rubbish and filth everywhere, goats roaming the streets, mad cars on the loose again and sand trying to take over everything. We only spend the night here and heads south the next morning.
As there are no street signs it is the first time our compass comes in handy and Marigold successfully leads tour convoy out of the city and towards the Senegalese border. The landscape changes here from pure desert to savannah with small shrubby trees and the odd palm trees dotted about and the colour of the earth is turning red.
The main Senegalese border at Rosso is renowned as one of the most notorious in all of Africa and the first Rally coming through here encounter some real nasty stuff. This year a deal has been struck and we will cross at Diama, some 60km west of Rosso along the dam on the north side of the Senegal River delta.
It is hot, the stretch along the dam is difficult with lots of potholes and ditches, Marigold has a puncture which takes a bit of time to solve due to our lack of spare wheel and we are all concerned to make to the border in daylight.
After all the horror stories, crossing the border is not too bad. Most of the other teams are already here. There are some sad stories of cars having to be abandoned and the other 2CV Van is in a very sorry state with part of its front axle ripped off and is hooked onto another vehicle as it can't even be towed. (Don't worry. It gets fixed and makes it all the way to Banjul).
As we can only cross Senegal in an escorted convoy due to their ridiculous law not allowed cars over 5years old into the country, we are in for a long wait
Basically it is all one big bribe and in the end it cost us roughly 100 euros per car to be allowed to pass. After hours and hours all is done by 11pm and the 40 car convoy set off into the night to a nearby overland campsite where we are allowed to stay for 3 days.
The road is seriously corrugated and here, the old Merc Wolfgang breaks done with a hole in the radiator. It feels really dire with this ox of a car on its knees and, in Marigold's dim headlights, some frantic repair attempts take place. Having been left by the main convoy, our little group limps into camp around 2 in the morning.
The campsite Zebrabar is a true oasis and after all these days of driving it is a fantastic place to chill out. A small overland campsite run by a Swiss couple, it is situated in a nature reserve near the old French colonial town of St Louis and can only be reached by car when the tide is low.
We park Marigold under a palm tree, take our stuff and never look at her for a few days. It is lovely and hot now and we recover from our long days of driving by swimming, exploring the lagoons in canoes, taking the little boat to St Louis, a town famous for its beautiful French colonial architecture as well as its renowned jazz festival, exploring the markets and definitely NOT driving anywhere.
Next: Finish at Banjul
This story was reproduced with the kind permission of the author, Lucie Mathiszig.
Find out more about Lucie and Andrea's adventure on www.team-marigold.com
The Plymouth-Banjul Challenge is run to raise money for charity. It's not too late to donate to Lucie and Andrea's charities: