It’s Broke and I can’t fix it here.
After the adventures of the day, discussion around the camp that night was all about the “what ifs”. What if they didn’t let us go? What if they pulled the trigger and shot one or all of us? Sleeping under the clear desert stars and waking the next morning ready for whatever was next in our adventure. We didn’t have to wait long! The desert in this area was mainly small low lying hills and dunes that were covered in clumps of sunburnt and windswept bush. So for me leading the way it was great fun picking creative driving lines in and out of gullies and troughs and up and over the various rises we could climb.
When the ferry pulled into the busy port of the city of Tangier, I was greeted with a completely new world. Having grown up in a third world country in the wilds of Papua New Guinea I was used to things being different but this was certainly different to any other place I had visited. The hustle of men in dresses coupled into the new experiences of an old civilization had me keen to hit the road and get out of the city.
Fortunately after a little bit of shopping that’s what we did, hit the road. Now I could go on about all the traveling bits but if you’re like me you’re more interested in the exciting stuff so lets get down to the boarder with Mauritania.
Morocco and Mauritania had been at war for quite some years and were now in a cease fire. What this meant for us is, we had to cross a section of no mans land along their boarder. This section of Africa is a gateway from Europe into the heart of Africa and as such there are numerous guys who travel into Europe and buy cars to drive down into Africa to be sold. When we arrive at the boarder post we find all these OLD Peugeot’s lined up waiting to cross the boarder. The way the crossing worked was that on a certain day both boarders would be opened into the no mans land section so that crossings could be made. So everyone had to wait until that day arrived. While we we’re waiting we meet two guys who were definitely left over french hippies on their way to set up a sowing clinic in Africa. They had an old Landrover same as ours and in the end we invited them to travel with us for safety. I can’t remember their names so I’ll call them Bill and Ben the flower pot men.
The day arrives, the boarder gets opened up and all of a sudden it’s like an off-road rally is on as a hundred or so cars, trucks and 4wds take of into this No Mans Land. I must admit we got caught up in the hype and hooked into the crossing at a speed that was probably a bit fast but we survived. This part of the world is mainly desert and soft sand is the norm so knowing how to drive sand was a great skill to have BUT remember the old Peugeot’s? Yeh! Well some of the guys had never driven in sand let alone in a 2wd car so within a couple of Kilometers we started seeing cars broken down, bogged and struggling. Somewhere along the way we learned that the Mauritanian boarder wouldn’t be opened until all the vehicles had made the crossing.
Watching all the vehicles struggling I realised that this was a great opportunity to have a heap of recovery fun. I let the tyres down to a much lower sand driving pressure allowing me to drive wherever I wanted without getting stuck and went back out to help those in trouble. The first guy we came to had his front wheels pointing in opposite directions because his steering had busted, after a bit of thinking I was able to strap the broken bits together so that he could have a bit of steering. Hooking our Snatch strap on we began pulling car after broken car onto some harder sand where they could drive. Then we found a short wheel base late model Nissan Patrol stuck with the driver scratching his head wondering what to do. After a bit of a chat I said mate do you mind if I drive your Rig because I believe I can drive it out of the sand without any trouble. He’s happy as for me to do it. Well to say I was having fun now would be an understatement. This Patrol had a big turbo, big fat muds (tires), factory diff-locks and was made to eat sand for breakfast. It didn’t take much to get the Patrol free, air down and just a little bit of back and forwards packing the sand and out she came. When Old Mate saw I knew what I was doing he said I should use his Patrol to go and help the others, so with one of my mates as my offsider hooking up cars and overseeing the FUN we hooked in again. I was buzzing I was made for this.
All this took a few hours and by the time we got the the Mauritanian boarder there seemed to be a few pissed off people. Pissed because we had taken too long to recover everyone??? They could have come and helped! By the time we got processed across the boarder it was nearly dark so we settled down for the night camping in the desert. A stiff breeze had come up and so we decided we would set up our canvas tarp between the 4wds as a shelter from the wind and blowing sand. Rather cozy with 12 of us in there but the funny thing was that with the wind blowing the canvas all over the place the sand was being forced through the canvas and made the whole inside of the “tent” like a calm dust storm. When I woke up in the morning my eyelids were full of sand and so before I could open my eyes I had to roll over and tip the dust out of my eye sockets. Ahh the adventures of Africa.
Next I’ll tell you about the soldiers that point guns and land mines.
I’m MadMatt stay safe on the trails.
How about I tell you some more of My African Adventure story? Due to the length I will do this over a few Blogs.
Back in 1994, (I’m not too old am I?) I had the opportunity to go 4wding in Africa with eight others in two Series two Land Rovers. My role was to be the trip mechanic and the 4wd expert. We traveled from London through Spain, Morocco, Mauritania, down to Dakar in Senegal on the north west coast of Africa. At the time Australians were on the nose as far as Spain was concerned so I wasn’t allowed to travel into Spain. You may have heard of a place called the Rock of Gibraltar which is located in the bottom corner of Spain. Well Gibraltar is a British territory and so I was allowed to fly there from London.
Gibraltar has the coolest airport because they actually shut the main road so the plains can land.
So the plan was that I would fly into Gibraltar and Shaun one of the others on the trip would come pick me up and smuggle me across the Spanish boarder into Spain. I needed to get into Spain so that I could travel on the car-ferry with the rest of the team from Spain to Morocco. When the big day arrived Shaun met me at the airport and we walked across the airport to the Spanish check point. I was suitably nervous thinking I was about to get locked up in a Spanish prison to never be seen again. I asked Shaun how smuggling me across the border was going to work, thinking of the Australian Customs I had left a weeks earlier. Metal detectors, guards, cameras, dogs and guns. Shaun was one of those guys that you liked as soon as you met him, he carried himself with the confidence of an experienced traveler who knew the tricks of staying alive when you’re living on the road out of a back pack in wild Africa.
Shaun didn’t have much to say other than “you let me do the talking” and stay in the background. “We will walk in the front door and if you come in a little behind me then wander across the room and out the door on the other side of the room.” We were approaching the crossing by this stage and I’m thinking there is no way this is going to work.
Shaun asks me “you ready” and before I can say anything he’s walking in the door and I’m following him thinking I just have to wander across this room that’s all so I walk in the door to see Shaun happily chatting to a bunch of guards, creating a distraction. So I get to my meandering across the 10 or so meters of room waiting for the hand to grab me on the shoulder or the yell indicating I had been spotted but before I knew it I was out the door and into Spain without so much as a stamp in my passport. I felt like a real bad dude now I was officially an illegal immigrant into Spain.
Once we met up with the rest of the crew at the port where the ferry would leave from we started to plan for our departure across to Morocco the next morning. In the back of my head I’m thinking how am I getting out of Spain? I was trying to think of ways I could hide in one of the 4wds without being found. Later that night I hit Shaun up for the plan and to my dismay he says your going to just walk through the customs and onto the ferry. I’m not James Bond in case you hadn’t noticed. Standing in the slowly moving line watching the customs officer clearing all the passengers ahead of me with thoughts of Spanish prisons running inside my head gave me plenty of time to get scared. I hand the officer my passport which he casually flicks through once then a second time looking for a stamp that doesn’t exist. He motions to a guy with a gun to come over and asks me why there is no stamp in my passport? I play dumb which is easy when the brain is cramped with fear. They chat about which cell I should be put into and then decide I should go and wait in the corner for a bit. Now I’m thinking that the ferry will be leaving without me when Shaun shows up and starts chatting to people with guns. One of them comes over to me and starts asking awkward questions to which I play dumb, again not to hard, then he asks me a really easy question. “If I let you onto the ferry will you ever be coming back to Spain” Yippy I can answer that one, “No flipping way,” to which he says of you go. So Morocco here I come.
Standing on the rail of the ferry with my first adventure behind me feeling like I could take on the world was a fantastic feeling. Little did I know that in the months ahead I would have guns pointed at me, nearly drive over Land mines, rebuild a motor in the Sahara desert and almost get killed by a swarm of angry locals.
Part 2 next week.
I’m MadMatt Stay safe on the trails.