Language barrier

Lina Nordfors, Per Karlström, cykla jorden runt, Mauritania

After leaving Nouakchott the landscape changed for the better. We now had several options of places to hide from the hot sun at during the days. The further south in Mauritania we biked the more options we got. And we knew it would be even greener when we entered Senegal so that was where our goal was set.

Lina Nordfors, Per Karlström, Mauritania, Camel

Two days before our border crossing we woke up in our tent in a small Mauritanian village, or gathering of houses. We packed our belongings in front of an audience of kids. Driven by their curiosity they just couldn’t stay away from us and the adults drove them away every now and then when they were caught being to close to our tent. We tried to convince the adult the kids wasn’t bothering us but it’s hard when you don´t share the same language. The kids on the other hand were super happy with us saying “Bonjour” to them every now and then while packing our panniers. Sometimes a “Hello” is all you need to get a new friend. When strolling away with our bikes, saying goodby, we also impressed them with “Jere Jef”, “Thank you” in Wolof. (Read about us getting invited to a Mauritanian family for our one year anniversary here).

Carolina Nordfors, Per Karlström, cykla jorden runt, Åsna, biketour, Mauritania

We are not always that lucky with a place to pitch our tent. Many times on this trip we have been able to put our tent next to a military- or gendarmerie post. Sometimes voluntary, sometimes not that voluntary. Our last afternoon in Mauritania we bought some water in a village, and was offered a kitten, before heading off in the direction of a nature reserve, where we would cycle through to get to the border. We didn’t bring the kitten, it’s against our trip guidelines. We do not bring along any animals we get offered or find on the road. The both of us do not agree on this rule by the way. Leaving the village the landscape changed drastically. The road changed to a mud and gravel road and the roadside offered open fields with cows and warthogs. After a while we started to cycle along the Senegal river that divides Mauritania and Senegal. We stopped at the first gendarmerie post ensuring them we would set up camp at the next post, just a couple of kilometer west along the river and so we did.

We were welcome to spend the night next to their place, not in the area, right there, one meter from where they were sleeping. We were not to happy with the spot given to us, but we accepted it. It meant sleeping literally next to the road and pitch the tent over the garbage surrounding the post. They explained that moving our tent closer to the river or on the field on the other side of the road would be to risky with all the snakes and other animals in the area.

Then the trouble really begun. When parking our bikes I noticed my safari hat was missing. I must have dropped it somewhere on the road between the two posts. What I of course wanted to do was bike the 3,5 or something kilometers to the other post and see if I could find it and then go back. Let me rephrase. An adult women who’s been cycling full time for a year want to bike on a straight road a couple of kilometers between two gendarmerie posts. The Gendarmerie officer did not think that was a great idea and thought it would be better if Per tagged along. I said no, I´ll bee right back and I headed of. It was an easy ride along the river to look for my hat. Without my panniers it felt like I was flying. And I found it! Maybe 100 meters from the other post. Excellent. I put it on and started to cycle back. It started to get a bit dark, but it was ok. Suddenly a van came in the other direction on my side of the road and stopped. I didn’t take much notice because people drive as they please here. So I just changed side of the road and continued biking. But when I passed the van a gendarmerie officer jumped out and started to wave his arms and shout in french. They wanted me to put my bike in the van and jump in it with them. I´m not a person who liked being told what to do, but after a lot of arguing with the officer, me in english and him in French I gave in. After the van started driving with my bike bumping around in the back I got even more angry, and told them to take another road so my bike wouldn’t break. It was a surreal situation, me yelling at the officer, the officer yelling at the driver to make him slow down at every bump. I guess they´re not really used to a women telling them their opinion or raising her voice. I was doing both.

Lina Nordfors, Per Karlström, cykla jorden runt, Mauritania

Back at the post they were not happy with my carelessness. Apparently there had been a little bit of chaos after I left and didn’t come back fast enough. They stopped a man in a van and he and the officer went after me. They told Per it was to dangerous for a women on the road alone. They were afraid the warthogs would attack me and that I wouldn’t get back before it got dark. They were really concerned about my safety. Per tried to convinced them that they didn’t need to worry. I once biked back 40km to look for my bike gloves and now I would only bike a couple of kilometers. That did not convince them of my sanity. I tried to explain that the warthogs were very afraid of us when we biked earlier that day and that we had been trying to take pictures of them the hole afternoon without any luck. I don’t think I convinced them but they invited us for dinner. In this case I think it was good we didn’t had a mutual language. No one would have wanted to hear what the other person said.

The morning after we pedaled our way along the Senegal river into the Diawling national park. The gendarmerie post we left said we had a good chance of seeing crocodiles on the riverbank since they often bask there during the morning. Unfortunately this was a cloudy day. We had more luck with the warthogs than the day before and manage to get a bit closer before they ran away. We also spotted an owl, a lot of bee eater and other birds. Exiting the park we had to pay a park fee for foreigner, 5 euro per person. After asking tree times for a recite we got one. He tried the technique of not hearing us asking and then not understanding us even though we said it in french. If we pay a park fee we want it to go to the park and not into a park rangers pocket. Finally he gave us one. We were able to buy water at the village in the park and after that it was just us, the donkeys, camels and goats on the sandy road until the border.