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Thread: Gael Warnings in West Africa.

  1. #33
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    Today was a great day in the desert. Up to now the weather has been kind to us with overcast conditions and temperatures around 30C. Today in Mauritania it was different, a real Saharan experience. We rode 480km and for many hours in temperatures over 41C, with a max over 43C. This is so hot you have to reduce ventilation and not increase it, although counterintuitive. Even opening the visor to drink from a Camelback was like having a hairdrier in your face, but it was essential to drink. We were fortunate that the service station had petrol and allowed us a short rest.

    What the photographs can not capture is the feeling of travelling by bike through this landscape in the heat, with sand as far as you can see and massive skies, for me, it was a truly spiritual experience.

    One special thing happened, where a dust devil began rotating in front of us and then moved on to the road and as we rode through, quite magical.

    The service station in Mauritania is known and feared by adventure bikers who travel the west coast of Africa. It is the only service station between the two Mauritanian cities which are 300miles, (480km) apart, in the middle of the desert. The reason it is notorious, is it only has petrol sometimes, which is not a good thing in the middle of a desert.

    Some say you are not a real adventure biker until you call in and there is no petrol and the next supply is 150 miles away. Today there was petrol, but not when I called 3 years ago. It is quite something when you pull in and the man says "pas d'essance", right Edventure? So far I'm running on 66% oui and 33% non.

    Some views of the day...

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  2. #34
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    Jim has done a great job in conveying the essence of a demanding but, ultimately, satisfying day.

    The heat was intense but as we approached Nouakchott we began to get the cooling effect of the sea quite rapidly which after 5 or more hours at 40 C+ was very welcome.

    The day also had some minor technical challenges on my GS which I have posted a request for help on the Technical section.

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    At a non technical level, in the soul in Marrakech I succumbed to the attractions of a heavy leather bag (pictured along with the guys who sold us bread and water before we set off today), supposedly made if dromedary skin, which does a good job of holding a 5 litre jerry can of petrol, 3 litre water bottles, my cooking stove and gas and various other sundries. It's a contrast to the red Ortlieb bag that has accompanied me on previous expeditions. In my idle thoughts as we ride through the desert, the Victorian traveller lives on...all that is needed now is a copy of Baedeker's Guide!

    As a first timer in Nouakchott I am impressed - low rise, bustling but friendly, even has its own version of John Lewis:






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  3. #35
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    This is becoming inspirational. 👍

  4. #36
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    Just been to Mali consulate. Met the consul in person who talked approvingly of our Irish passports (there are reports on HUBB of French being refused visas) so hopefully in an hour will collect the visas.

    On the way spotted this lady preparing her wares
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  5. #37
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    Today a day of paperwork and trying to check my bike on our rest day.

    Walked a mile down to the bustling Marche du capital. Name:  IMG_8017.JPG
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    However it seems alternator belts are sold in another specialist market another mile away! In he searing heat I decide that can wait until tomorrow, since we cannot get Carte Brune insurance until then anyway. (Friday is a half day here for religious reasons).

    Spot a handy supply of vache qui rit cheese, the cheese of travellers in this part of Africa.
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    I observe also that tiled garages are popular here:

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    Crossed a football field whose surface was probably not FA approved

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    You can just about make out the goalposts at the end.

    On the bike front, the GS battery connection are good and the level looks OK so time to 🤞🏼. Good to have Jim as a travel companion as his technical knowledge and ability far exceed mine!


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  6. #38
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    And cannot believe I have ridden this far with the Tucano muffs and gaucho on the bike
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    I doubt they are really designed for the tropics but the shelter from the searing 40C winds has probably been helpful.

    In fact the handlebar muffs have been on the bike continuously for nearly 10 years, including across Syria and down to Wadi Rum in Jordan, and in the Iranian desert, so they may stay on a little longer!




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  7. #39
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    I've been offline for a day and in fact was out of commission for all of yesterday after a chicken skewer meal at the "Top Fresh" restaurant in Noueckchott, clearly I'll not be recommending it on Trip Advisor. In the meantime Simon has been running around getting visas, chasing insurance, buying a spare alternator belt, shopping and looking after me, all in 40+C temperatures. A great partner to have.

    Before taking to my bed I tried to buy a sim for my spare phone the day we arrived here. The security guard recommended a young lad selling from a stall near the hotel. I approached him and it seemed that he could sell one for about £6. I had a long discussion with him in our limited French. I was trying to establish whether it would allow me to have access to the internet. He seemed to assure me it would, so I agreed to have it installed. I handed him my phone which needs a pin to release the sim compartment and another for the SD card. This is when things got interesting.

    He first poduced a bent keyring which was clearly to large for the hole and would not release the catch. Then he searched around in his drawer but could not find anything which would work. You might think a pin was a requirement of someone selling phnne sims. He then started to look on the ground, which really puzzled me until he came up with a wooden match. He broke it in half and chewed the end and tried to insert it into the hole. After some fiddling miraculously the catch opened and the SD card was revealed, sadly not the sim. He then tried with the sim compartment but it seemed the match only was up to one opening and he gave up. I then said I'd take the phone into the hotel and release it with a needle from a sewing kit and he seemed to approve of the idea. I returned with the sim compartment open and we inserted the sim. It worked in connecting me to the phone network but not to the internet. He took some time to understand the problem and then involved a guy sitting under a tree nearby. He had better French and we discussed the problem. It seems I would need to purchase additional credit to allow internet access. At this stage, after a day riding across the desert I lost the will to buy a sim and retired to the hotel with its air conditioning and WI-FI. I will revisit the purchase of a sim later this evening.

    Once I surfaced this afternoon I and had a bit of energy again I was keen to have a look at the Sena intercom in Simons helmet. He'd complained that one speaker had failed and on investigation one if the fine speaker wires had come loose and after it was handled a few times both wires had become detached. I had a 12V soldering with me and began a repair. Just at this point a guy arrived who was proposing to sell us a carte brune insurance for Mali, Senegal and Gambia, and other countries of course. Simon then went off with the guy and I set up to solder.

    To protect the battery I wanted to have the bike running before plugging in the soldering iron which was 20w. To test the iron I started my bike and it began to warm up. I could just reach the helmet on Simon's bike and soldered the wires.

    All looked fine but when Simon had finished with the insurance discussion, (which I'm sure he'll describe later) we replaced the speaker but it did not work. We tried a few times with resoldering but no joy. My conclusion is that the channel may have failed, possibly with the wires touching or grounding. Sadly Simon will only have one speaker operating for the rest of the trip. An unsatisfactory outcome of the attempted repair.

    A few further photos below, including Simon sampling the swimming pool.

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  8. #40
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    Your tool kit includes a soldering iron...

  9. #41
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    Crumbles: I did say earlier that Jim is a great guy to travel with. Now you know why!

    Did my own tour of Nouakchott whilst the solder master was preparing bundled mentally for the task ahead.

    A few snaps:

    Rubbish collection
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    Local version of a red triangle, in middle of a busy junction:

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    At least 2 tyres gone AWOL
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    Whilst finding insurance was a nightmare, finding the alternator belt specified by Steptoe was a doddle.

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    That's not actually Neil BTW although you can see the resemblance


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  10. #42
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    Guys, how are you doing? In Mali yet?

    Looking forward to the next installment

  11. #43
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    After 3 days it was time to leave Nouakchott and head east. Our time here had been partly enforced by my illness and a Mali visa which had an entry date some days ahead. Breakfast was to be served from 6 so we went down around 6.20 but it was still being set up so we put some more things on the bike. It was not yet fully light, but would be by the time we left. We didn't get away as quickly as we might as I was still sluggish after my illness and not operating on all cylinders. We wound our way through the traffic, now used to the fact that cars will appear from odd angles, taxis stop without warning to pick up fares and traffic sometimes stops at red lights. We avoided any collisions also eventually made our way out of town. The road was not wonderful. It was tar mostly but was potholed in places and some of the surfaces were very uneven, so speeds had to be adjusted. As my concentration was not the best I was happy to have Simon lead and he was doing a fine job.



    As we left the hotel the temperature was 26C but we knew it would not remain so low for long. Not far out of the city we has sand on each side of the road, not a barren desert but with trees and later some vegetation. The villages seemed more like central African villages than those in the desert and we saw more cows too, as well as the odd camel and lots of goats.



    We were making steady progress being stopped regularly at checkpoints and handing out finches. It was getting warmer too. The road was undulating as if we were traversing a series of valleys. As you came over the brow of a hill you would see a slope down of maybe half a mile and a similar rise to the next brow. It made for interesting riding.



    There were cars and trucks to overtake and the occasional coach to overtake us. With the slopes in the road overtaking needed some planning, even with the bikes. Typically the traffic was bunched together so you had to overtake a group of cars. Some of these cars also wanted to overtake, so the horn got used a few times to keep them in line. Both our bikes have a loud deep horn which sounds like a much larger vehicle than a bike, so has a deterrent effect.

    We were making steady if not fast progress until we came upon some trucks parked on the side of the road. We weren't sure if this was a major checkpoint or other problem but overtook the trucks and got up to a point where the road was blocked with cars and trucks and a few army guys told us to stop. It seemed the road was blocked.



    The scene was disorderly chaos but good humoured. We threaded our way through as best we could on the road. The edge of the road was firm and we could have ridden on it but the trucks had parked in the fringe and beyond that was sand, deep soft sand.



    The locals thought could just head off across the sand like the Dakar Rally riders they thought we were. That was not going to happen, at least on my part. Simon did venture through the sand and did well, making some progress but it was hard on his clutch. I contimued with the road option, occasionally using the fringe. Having wide metal panniers does not make "threading" easy.



    At one point when Simon was ahead he asked over the headset how I was hetting on and I had to report that as well as being in the middle of the cars and trucks I had discovered my front wheel was flat. Understandably I was delighted, this was all I needed. However, my St Christopher badge seems to still work because the truck to my side had an air line and was pumping up the tyres of a car and promptly inflated my tyre too. One problem solved. While all the chaos was happening on the road, in parallel many cars were overtaking the melee by racing across the desert, some more successfully than others, and some got badly stuck. Some deflated their tyres to help in dealing with the sand.

    Anyway, back to my predicament, I was in the middle of all these cars, with a now inflated tyre and looking for a gap to continue forward. I headed for the verge again and came across cars blocking my path, the only option was to go back on to the road but I had to wait till the guy to my side replaced his wheel on his car, all done quite calmly. Once the wheel was done I was back on the road for more threading. As I mentioned, everyone was good humoured and helpful. Hardly any honking of horns and people would move it it helped your passage. Simon had come back again to help me make progress and we found a route, quite tight though. I made my way through till I came to a space between a truck wheel and a car. I edged forward, scraping the truck wheel rubber but still would have hit the car. Could the car be moved, well not without a driver. A few people were watching this and a shout went out for the driver to return the car. He came back edged forward and I was through. This allowed us to get up to the source of the problem.



    A truck had overturned sideways spilling its load of bags all over the carriageway, blocking not just the road but the verges too. Either side of the truck was of course sand. So there was nothing for it we have to go through the deep sand, Oh joy, I thought, but probably said something stronger. We looked at both sides and decided the right hand was the best and shortest route and as we were thinking about it, a car attempted that route and got stuck, and dug a bit hole in the sand. It did not seem so attractive now. We looked at the other side again, it was possible but required sweeping around in a big arc on a narrow ledge. We looked again at what the car was doing. He had reversed a little and there may be a way through past him. Then he decided to have another go and I helped to push. He got through. So now it was my turn and I started tentatively, which is not the best in sand, but with help I got through and back on the road past the obstruction. Simon managed more easily with just a short push from me near the end. This had all taken well over an hour and we were exhausted and had only covered about 100km from the hotel. We rode forward to a place we could park and have a drink and ready ourselves for riding further on.



    We did remind ourselves that we have come looking for an adventure and we certainly had one that morning. During all this the heat had crept up to 40C which explained why we were drenched in sweat. I checked my tyre and it seemed to be holding pressure and we headed off. The next town was about 70km away and we planned a stop and review of plans.





    We checked all the service stations in the town and none had petrol in pumps but some had in cans. We decided to carry on to Aleg and review things there. At Aleg we checked in a few petrol stations and were directed one which had petrol in a pump, many had petrol in cans, and we filled up. Then we found a shop selling cold cans and Simon bought me a delightful Fanta. Over the Fanta we enquired about hotels in Aleg and further along the road. We had no confidence that there were any hotels short of Life a, 330km away so decided to stay in Aleg. The first hotel was full but the guy led us by car to the other one which was basic but workable. We unpacked and rested up. Later we got some of our precooked meals-in-bag food out and ate in the courtyard being watched by the cats.





    This was my first sizable meal since being ill and the food was spicy, in retrospect maybe not a good choice. We later went back out to the courtyard in the dark to wonder at the milky way. The hotel owner and family were out too and it was a special moment.


    Sadly I was awake at 05.00 feeling unwell, thinking it may be the spicy food I had eaten. We carried on with our plan however and began loading the bikes in the dark. While doing this I became quite weak and sit on the courtyard to recover. It became clear to me that I was still suffering the symptoms of the earlier food poisoning, and was not up to a heavy day today. I didn't fancy staying in this hotel another day and decided it was best I return to Nouackchott and Simon continue east. He protested and wanted to come back to the city with me but I felt confident I could do the 260km OK, starting early in the cool. So with a heavy heart I waved Simon off and finished my packing and started to retrace my steps.



    Leaving just after dawn the temperature was cool for a few hours. I felt OK on the bike and had enough petrol on board, not to need a refill. I kept drinking and continued to feel OK. I had a better view of the road this time too, seeing it from a different angle and not being under too much time pressure, apart from the rising temperature.

    Goats, cattle and camels.







    Also a lot of people standing by the side of the road, taken with my helmet camera.




    And this lady who wanted to be noticed.


    Examining the remains of a dead camel.


    And this well balanced lady.


    I looked out for the scene of the lorry chaos and when I found it everything had been cleared up. All went fine until we approached the city. My GPS said I'd be parked up at the hotel by an out 11.15 so was looking forward to that. The first delay was roadworks which had increased since yesterday, probably cos its Monday. This meant an extended spell off-road including some wet sand, delightful. Of course the temperature was now close to 40C. Once clear of the roadworks I noticed a lot more cars around, it was sluggish getting through. Sluggish then became impassable and I was stopped for long periods not able to move. Did I mention the temperature? It was taking 15 minutes to get across a junction. Cars were cutting in and causing gridlock, and there wasn't much humour evident. I had my panniers clipped by a car.

    After about an hour of this, when I'd been on the road for about 5 hours, I was still some way from the hotel. I stopped to remove my jacket and in my heat induced confusion, almost rode off without it. Back into the fray. Having had little food it knew this was not good, but abandoning the bike was not possible also. Finally I had to stop again and leave the bike and seek shade by the roadside. I was exhausted and ended up lying on the pavement for a few minutes. A guy near me spoke and I asked him for some cold water. He went to get it from a shop and another guy gave me some too. I drank the shop water and poured the other water over my head and clothes. I carried on doing this for 15 mins or so but still was not up to riding. One of the guys who had given me water, invited me into his air conditioned shop and gave me a chair. It felt good and I began to recover. Then I looked around the shop and saw it was a mobile phone shop. I wondered if they could get my Mauritania sim to work with the internet, which had failed me so far. He was happy to oblige.

    As I left, recovered, he gave me simple directions to the hotel, straight on to the 4th light and turn right. Great! I rode off up the road soaking in water but the road was blocked by police, due to some official function and all traffic were directed down a sandy side street. I gritted my teeth and followed the cars and got hit again, this time nearly knocking me over. Anyway 15 minutes later I was parking outside the hotel, not at 11.15 but at 13.30. They had a room and it is very comfortable.

    Some other photos from today.




    P





    I've just heard that Simon has arrived safely at his destination but has no Wi-Fi.

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  12. #44
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    Great write up Jim. Sounds like the adventure is in full flow!

    Hydrate much more than you think you should, it's crucial in those temperatures.

  13. #45
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    Firstly, I've heard Simon has arrived safely in Mali.

    As I have some time on my hands I've had a chance to reflect on Nouakchott the capital of Mauritania. The last time I passed this way I stayed one night in the Auberge du Sahara with some Irish guys in 5 Land Cruisers that I'd picked up crossing the Sahara, but that's another story. So I hardly left the auberge that time and I didn't get a positive impression of Nouackchott. On the way back north I bypassed it completely only stopping for fuel. The Auberge Sahara of course has the authentic feel of an adventure accommodation and I was bitten by authentic mosquitos while staying there and the electrics were a risk to health.

    This time Simon and I we booked in to the Wissal Apartments which are on the side of the Wissal Hotel.

    On arrival we were put into the hotel as they had a 2 single bed room. As I'm not on the bike I thought I'd explain why we stayed here and what is around. Firstly it is about 15-20 mins walk from the Mali embassy.

    It has good bike parking with your own security guard, who mostly has his eyes open.

    There are supermarkets, pharmacies and a great French bakery a minute walk away. The pharmacies are well stocked and I was able to replenish my supplies of Imodium, redydration powders etc.

    The cost is about 25 euro per person sharing and can be booked on booking.com. At the moment there is a UNESCO meeting going on here. End of advertisement, but hope the info is useful to some.

    On the city, apart from the rush hour traffic which I've already covered, the people are very friendly and helpful. I know Simon has visited some of the markets and even bought a spare alternator belt suitable for his R1150GS. After the crossing of the desert it is good to have a place to relax and chill out.

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  14. #46
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    Sounds like a proper adventure.
    Ride safe

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    Still in Nouakchott I got a bit of energy back today and decided to get a few things done early, before the city heated up. I was keen to get the slow puncture sorted, get access to the internet on my spare phone for the next few days, fuel up, and get some cash out. If possible I'd like to thank again the 2 people who gave me water when I nearly passed out a few days ago. I started by asking the security guard at the hotel where I could get the tyre fixed. He pointed to a place about 200 meters away, so I rode down. It was small tyre place with about 4 lads around. One of them took control and I got the wheel off.

    The behaviour of the tyre was strange. I had it repaired in Marrakech where it needed 2 patches. It seemed fine on the ride down here but it became suddenly flat about 90k after leaving the hotel last time, in the middle of the road block, going to Aleg. Again sitting outside the hotel the last few days it was holding pressure. However with the prospect of heading off into the desert again, I wanted to know what was wrong and have it fixed, so decided to get them to put my new spare tube in the tyre, but also have the old tube tested and repaired, as a spare. I explained what I wanted to the guy doing the work, who seemed quite switched on. He took the tube out and tested for leaks, there were none. There was however a blister on one of the patches from Marrakech, so we suspected this may have been the issue, so we would have that repatched.

    First he tested the new tube which looked OK but was much thinner than the old one.

    Then he installed the new tube in the wheel and I measured the pressure. All was done quite efficiently, except I did not see the patch repair as I was installing the wheel, in hindsight it seemed a bit quick. Everything was done in good humour up to this point. Some of the guys helped me taking on and off the wheel. Asked me where I had been on the bike, how much it was worth etc. However, when I asked how much the guy wanted for the work, it got more interesting. He said a figure which I could not believe and asked him to type the digits on his phone. It was what I thought, 30,000 Ouguiya, about 70 Euros. I laughed, he was having me on but continued to insist. I started to put my gear on and went to my wallet and gave him 2,000, about 4.5 euro. He continued to ask for 30,000 but then reduced it to 20,000. By now I have my helmet on and a few of the other guys are taking an interest. I continued to get ready to leave and he reduced the price to 10,000 but I shook my head and took the bike off it's centre stand. By now the other 3 guys are gathering around and I wondered if it may get awkward. So I told him I was making a last offer and went to my wallet and took out another 1,000. He was still unhappy but I mounted the bike and rode off. I'm still sure it's one of the best mornings he's had in a while and I was glad to get the problem fixed for about 7 euro, but it was a pity it had to end that way. I don't mind bargaining but trying to rip off a traveller is a bit much.

    After the tyre place I rode back to the phone shop, where the guy had given me cold water when I had to abandon the bike in the heat of the gridlock a few days ago. They recognised me and made me welcome and I thanked them again for their help. I also asked for their help with my second phone so I can have credit loaded and how to activate it before heading off into the desert again. They explained again what needs to be done. For info, to connect to the phone network here you buy a sim, but to get on th the internet you need to load extra credit, and there is a process for loading the credit. Once it is loaded, there is another process for activating the credit, which is measured in time(day, week or month) of internet access. If you get the right guy, you can get him to get the Mauritel automatic voice to speak in English to you, as they did for me. So now I have some credit loaded and I need to key in some digits tomorrow, for 1 day of internet access, and the same the next day. The guys were very helpful and as I thanked them again one mentioned an interesting fact as we were talking about the heat. He confirmed that it was hot for them too and that a few days ago it had hit 50C, which may go some way to explain my heatstroke outside their shop a few days ago.

    The phone shop was located near the market and I left the bike out side the shop, left my helmet and body armour in the shop, and went for a stroll in the market. It really is a market for locals, not for tourists. It sells practical things, footwear, clothes, cooking equipment, sunglasses, watches etc. I had a good walk around but was able to resist the various things on offer.


    The machete was tempting but last time I went into Morocco they asked about knives and also x-rayed the bike.

    It was good to get the vibe of the market though, there was no hassle and I felt very safe. The only people approaching me were wanting to change money and they were not very persistent.
    This guy was selling everything from thin thread up to thick rope.

    There were dozens of men operating treadle sewing machines.

    These chewing sticks are popular here, apparently used for dental hygiene.

    On the way back to the bike I passed 2 petrol stations which I visited and found one of them had petrol. I also passed a bank and got money out on my Visa bank card. Worth noting that Visa seems to work everywhere here in Mauritania but Master Card and Maestro hardly work at all. I've not succeeded with my Maestro card as yet, although it has worked in Morocco. So I returned to the bike and said my goodbyes again and went to the petrol station to fill up. I was surprised how much fuel I'd used up fighting my way through the gridlock earlier im the week. When I returned to the hotel I checked the oil, as the poor engine had suffered that hot day too, but the oil was fine. I've put in about 120cc of oil since I left the UK, about 2,700 miles(4,300km) ago and the chain has not needed adjusting. So I should be all set for a departure tomorrow and more on that when I get access to the Wi-Fi again.
    Was amused at this windscreen. I wonder if it would pass a UK MOT, marginal I'd say.




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  16. #48
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    Click here to find out how to remove these ads

    Not sure why some of the photos are rotated, apologies.

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"Its about being a grown up hooligan - and if that means a dark visor, remus open pipe and a bit of speeding out of town then all well and good"