To Nouakchott

I felt as though we'd only just scratched the sandy surface of Atar and its surrounding Saharan beauty but we were all itchy to get back on the road. I was already behind my trip schedule overall and having ticked a very big box with the desert crossing it was time to get some kilometres under my belt and migrate further south. For their part, the second-hand explorers also had to recover the beleaguered Hilux from the desert and get all three vehicles to Mali to sell so they could recover their trip expenses, settle up with Abou and return to the various rat races that awaited them each back at home.

The plan was for me to convoy with Eric (the greenest of the crew) on the bitumen to the capital Nouakchott back on the coast and for the remaining three to pile into the Colorado and dash back out into the desert with the replacement hub that Abou had brought in on the bus. Considering that the Surf had never been sold in Mauritania and had a slightly different hub to the regular Hilux, Abou's achievement of sourcing this rare part was a testament to his ingenuity. Your average Mauritanian's sheer ability to hustle—to solve a problem with what we consider waste—puts the most educated Western engineers to shame.

The trip back was—initially—uneventful as we cruised at 130-140 km/h along a decent, straight road passing through the odd village and getting little relief from the sun by the hot, dry air.

At about the half-way mark, a little distracted and lulled by the straight and even road, I hit a nasty pothole and felt the familiar pang of the rim connecting with the sharp, back edge of the cavity. I took an optimistic beat, hoping that I'd gotten away without a pinch-flat, but alas my positive attitude wasn't strong enough to defy physics and the bike weaved and wobbled its way with a flat front tyre to a guided halt at the edge of a small village.

As Eric pulled up I got to work, ready to draw on my pre-trip investment in never shying away from a manual tyre change. Unfortunately, not only had I pinched the tube, but the valve stem had ripped out, making the tube irreparable. I chucked it in one of my panniers, pulled out the spare and got it in in fairly good time. We were back in action and had only lost half an hour or so.

Shortly after that, I started playing the second-guessing game with myself, worrying that the front wheel felt a bit squishy and not quite itself. Given my history of bikerchondria I tried to convince myself it was all in my head, but it got worse and I had to face facts—or rather flats.

I pulled over again, this time near a Gendarmerie post and got to work, again. It seemed that my spare tube had come pre-punctured for added inconvenience and I'd neglected to properly test whether it held air before I’d put it in. An assumption, but one which usually comes with a relatively low risk.

Another half an hour or so, and it was as if it had never happened (or at least I could almost make that claim). We got another few kilometres down the road and I started getting that feeling again. "Surely not," I thought. This time it must be in my head.

Alas, no. It seemed that my spare had not one, but two, complimentary holes in it and of course I didn't learn my lesson the first time and just test it before it went in.

This time however, things were a little different. Because I'd taken so long to admit that I was running on another flat (partially thanks to a very hard-carcassed tyre which almost made it unnoticeable) installed tube had now overheated and become a long, gooey remnant of its former self. The heat had also partially melted the inner surface of the tyre, making it rough and sticky.

For what would not be the first time on the trip, I found myself becoming highly infuriated with my own stupidity.

Eric had caught up to me by now and was happy to offer words of ridicule and amusement in between puffs of his ciggie and dips into the air-conditioned cabin of his car, but he changed his tune fairly abruptly when a group of youths started making their way along the road towards us, one (of about 14) with a large-calibre hunting rifle slung over his shoulder.

Not one to take Mauritania's history of tourist kidnappings too lightly, Eric made the decision to shift out of the character of roadside larrikin into something resembling a European football team manager two goals down in the final with five minutes left in the game. I was encouraged not to linger too long over the grave of my old tube and it was suggested that we "GTFO" of there before something bad happened.

As was typical in these parts, as the boys approached, we were treated only with curiosity and amusement—and of course offered help. The boys seemed oblivious to the effect the presence of their hunting tool was having on Eric's mood. Having been exposed to guns from a young age, the presence of a one in and of itself didn't automatically fill me with fear and it was much more about reading the body language of the individual holding it. They are almost never brandished—just carried as casually as a spade, an axe or (as I'd discover as I journeyed south) a machete.

I set about hatching a plan and decided I could probably salvage my original tube by patching the pinch and using some super-glue I'd wisely packed in my toolkit to secure the stem back in, hoping that it would hold until we got to the city. Having a problem in unfamiliar territory is always intimidating and I was certainly glad to have Eric's company (and the occasional donated cigarette, the nerves having well and truly overpowered my ability to resist that urge introduced so many years ago and one that never truly leaves you).

The stem held, thank god, and we trundled into Nouakchott at about 10pm and made our way to Auberge Sahara, which my iOverlander app told me was the spot to stay at and a long-standing overlander's haunt.

It wasn't quite what I expected and felt more like a Soviet hospital than a fun, adventure-travelling hub. On the plus side I found a couple of familiar faces there: Willem & Gea, the Dutch couple with their Suzuki Jimny and trailer that I'd met in Western Sahara. They had taken a real liking to me when we first met, Willem being keen on his bikes, and they were just as happy to see me as I was them.

Willem & Gea confirmed that Auberge Sahara wasn't what it used to be—they'd come through some 10 years prior in a massive Magirus-Deutz truck that they'd used as their first overlanding platform (having gone from one extreme to the other). Apparently, the hotel's landlords couldn't resist the temptation to kill the goose that laid golden eggs and had kicked the operators out and tried to run it themselves.

Luckily, the original Auberge Sahara had now relocated around the corner and rebranded as Auberge Samira, retaining it's old vibe and clientele. Given the time, Eric and I decided to hole up at the sterile Sahara for one night and if we ended up staying another we'd relocate to the more happening Samira the next day—it was well past dinner time.

We got a restaurant recommendation and after washing up ambled up the wide, brightly lit and sandy main boulevarde in search of sustenance (forget a beer—none of that in Mauritania). Not long after we took our seats and the many, attentive waiters scrambled to figure out which of the dishes listed on the menu they actually had the capability to make we were surprised to see the towering figure of Jens lumbering through the gate towards us—mission accomplished!

It was humbling to think that they'd managed to get across the desert, repair the vehicle, backtrack out to Nouadhibou and make their way along the coast to Nouakchott in the same time we'd done the direct route. It seemed like I really needed to practice my tyre changes more.

As it would turn out, I'd have plenty of opportunity.

Old Dog
Old Dog
Hard at Work
Hard at Work
Second Flat
Second Flat
Where's me dinner?
Where's me dinner?
The Return
The Return

© David Baskind · 2022