It is amazing what a couple of hours on the road can do. From the sand swept desert landscape at Nouakchott to the near tropical greenery in Senegal in just under 3 hours (200 km). We insisted that the taxi driver drop us off at the border and not at Rosso bus station to avoid yet another short hop with more haggling. We had the choice of crossing the Senegal River from Rosso or to continue within Mauritania further west for 90 km and the cross to Saint-Louis near the coast. We opted for the Rosso crossing despite its reputation for corruption (just relatively speaking!).
Video enroute to Rosso
As we got off the taxi, the touts closed in and we had to move their hands away from our bags. We donned our packs and deliberately walked away from the border and towards the town just to shake off the pestering mob. It was clear that Rosso was not the sort of town to be looking for food, vegetarian or otherwise. In fact, it looked very unlike the Mauritania we had experienced the past few days. We had a premonition that this was just a sneak peak at what lay across the river. Eager to get away from there and across the border, we walked back and looked for people in official uniforms to guide us. There were no signs of any kind in any language to indicate that this was an international border crossing.
We encountered a pair of uniformed men seated in front of the gate that our taxi driver had directed us to. We approached them and produced our passports for their inspection. They scanned it and pronounced our names loudly in the most unprofessional manner but offered no help. Touts had caught up with us and tried to lure us away from the gate indicating that they would get us across. The uniformed officials seemed to be in cahoots with some of them and even seemed to indicate we should make arrangements with one of the touts for the border crossing. We stood steadfast and shaking our head firmly let them know that we were not about to engage anyone. We said that we knew that the river was just on the other side of the gate. Finally (after much murmuring and flipping of the passport pages) they relented. One of them opened the gate and let us through. Beyond lay the Senegal River, just a few minutes away by ferry or pirogue (small boat). We looked for a currency exchange bureau (having steadily refused offers from the touts) and found all of them closed. Friday afternoon.
We managed to locate the Immigration police booth and got our Mauritanian exit stamps. We could easily have skipped this step and no one would have cared. We hopped on to a pirogue (rather than wait for the ferry which was supposed to be free for those crossing on foot) at the suggestion of a Senegalese man who spoke a little English who seemed to be of decent character. Within a few minutes we jumped off the boat and landed on our feet in Senegal.
The entry procedure in Senegal was relatively free of any nonsense and we got our stamps at the small post with a fence that seperated it from the rest of Senegal and the dock. The Senegalese man continued to walk with us and said that it was Friday afternoon and the taxis and buses from the bus station would not leave for several hours. It was a better option to head to the highway (4 km away) and wait there for buses enroute to Saint-Louis. He even haggled with a horse cart driver to take us to the highway junction. We had enough CFA (thanks to S who exchanged some of what he had) and did not wish to exchange any on the black market, preferring to get to an ATM in Saint-Louis.
We sat on the open bed of the horse cart for the 20 minute ride through a green landscape and got off at the roundabout that forked for Richard Tall (going east) and Saint-Louis (going west). Yes, it did make sense to wait here as we could get transport coming from Richard Tall or the Rosso border. There was a police checkpoint and a small hut with a few people. Our Senegalese companion (who we learned was also going to Saint-Louis) said that we may have to wait a bit due to the Friday afternoon prayers. The mild weather and the calm surroundings helped us with the 90 minute wait before a bus from the Richard Tall direction showed up with enough empty seats to take us. A couple of mini-buses had passed through but they were too full. None of these carried any signs in any language. It was all unofficial.
We had a sneaking suspicion that our friendly Senegalese man may pull some stunt but did not want to be unduly suspicious. Our hunches proved right when he suddenly offered to buy our tickets for the bus. Once on board, we asked for our change and he asked that we pay his fare too. We refused and managed to get our money back. We clearly told him that we did not ask for his help and there was no talk of any payment for his "services".
Buses in Senegal are supposed to be notoriously slow with frequent stops. The "bush taxis" (there is the 5-seat variety and the less expensive 7-seater variety) are expected to be considerably faster. The highway from Rosso to Saint-Louis was well paved, but the bus took almost 3 hours to cover the 90 km to Saint-Louis, thanks to 2 police stops where the whole bus is emptied and checked. We did not have the comfort of our offline map on the iPhone, but our Garmin GPS showed our route and we seemed to be headed in the right direction. We saw city outskirts and after a while caught sight of the distant city buildings. The bus entered a busy station filled with buses and taxis and maneuvered itself to a stop. We noticed that no one else got off and so we opted to wait, assuming that a big crowd will get off at Saint-Louis. Within a minute, the bus pulled away to continue onward. Someone at the back alerted us asking if we wanted to get off at Saint-Louis, and so we had to grab our heavy packs and get off in a hurry, much to the annoyance of the "conductor" who resented the delay.
Fortunately, getting a taxi to our hostel in the "ville" (city center) did not prove to be as complicated and with our minimal French, we managed to agree on a price and the driver knew the location. It was almost dark and we were glad to be at the hostel before sunset. New country, negative reputation.
Google Maps Link
Tough initiation to a new country. Have heard that Senegal is actually nicer than that - so hopefully your next post will see the country in a different light. From, on Feb 1, 2013 at 10:39AM