From St Louis, SENEGAL to MAURITANIA
Dec 16, 2005
Although my main aim for the day was to reach Nouakchott in Mauritania, I needed to withdraw some CFAs from an ATM before I left St-Louis and decided to take a quick look at the island and the adjacent peninsula on the way.
The few buildings I saw lacked any of St-Louis' reputed colonial beauty, but the strait between the island and the peninsula, lined with colourful fishing boats was attractive. I followed the lead of the locals and crossed the strait on a dilapidated bridge then passed between the rows of buildings on the peninsula and walked onto the beach. It was a typical open-ocean, sandy beach, spoiled by fishing & urban refuse.
I strolled along the beach a way then cut back to the strait, followed the bank until I reached the good bridge and crossed back onto the island. The ATM was a little difficult to find until I followed the pointed finger of a man on the street, whom I tipped following my withdrawal.
I collected my bags from the auberge then headed for the gare routiere. I had intended taking a taxi, but unlike earlier in the morning there were no taxis waiting outside the auberge. So I walked along the bank on the mainland side of the island and crossed using the sole bridge, an imposing construction by the designers of the Eiffel Tower in Paris.
The map in the Lonely Planet guidebook showed the gare routiere to be near the bridge on the mainland, but unfortunately it had moved. After some discussion with a few car-washers and a taxi driver, I agreed to take the taxi to the gare routiere for 1,000CFA (~Oz$2.50). It was a fair price because it was several kilometres away on the edge of town near the road to Dakar.
As requested I was dropped near the Sept-Place for Rosso. I paid 1,750CFA (~Oz$4.40) for a place then argued over the price of my backpack. It became quite heated because I had thought I had reduced the price from a very unreasonable 1,500CFA to a slightly overpriced 750CFA, but after a long wait for my change when it looked like he was going to keep it, the amount he gave me meant I had paid 1,000CFA for my bag. It was a small difference (~Oz$0.65), but I didn't like the way the ticket seller did business.
When finally underway it was a pleasant journey through surroundings familiar from the previous. I was nervous that I would reach the border before the Mauritanian side closed at 1pm for lunch, however we arrived in Rosso before 12.30pm and Senegalese Immigration was a breeze.
I went to the ferry crossing to find that the car ferry was on the other side of the river and it didn't look like it would be crossing any time soon. However, a pinaisse was filling with passengers, so I climbed aboard and waited for it to fill up.
I didn't know how many passengers were needed to make the crossing, but if it was based on the quote that I received of 500CFA per person, it wouldn't be long. I was wrong! When it was almost 1pm, the driver declared he wasn't leaving and the boat vacated. I felt like throwing the driver into the river, but as usual the locals just accepted it.
With two hours to wait, I wandered around looking for somewhere to eat, ignoring the offer of 'assistance' from the only fluent English-speaking 'guide' who had earlier blatantly lied about the need to buy a ferry ticket from one of his mates and the need to change €50 (~Oz$85) into Mauritanian Ouguiya to pay the Mauritanian border officials. After a fruitless search for a decent restaurant, I eventually settled on the least mediocre choice and lingered over a basic meal out of sun.
When I returned to the ferry dock I waited with the locals and read. A pinaisse was slowly filling and I was offered a seat, but I said I would wait for the car ferry. When it became evident that the pinaisse would leave before the car ferry, I jumped aboard the pinaisse. The pinaisse pushed out into the river drifted while the outboard motor sputtered, but it eventually fired and we joined the fleet of pinaisses and paddle-powered pirogues heading for the Mauritanian side of the river.