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Yes, I admit that driving thousands of kilometres into the paradise of desert rally racing had an opportunistic justification. My photographer, also named Jiří, and I are surfing enthusiasts. From Bohemia, the closest nice spot to surf is off the coast of France in the Bay of Biscay, which is about 1,600 kilometres distant.

The main problem is not the distance, but rather the current popularity of surfing. In recent years, this kind of adrenaline entertainment and leisure lifestyle has been experiencing an inexplicable heyday in Europe. As a result, beaches are overcrowded by surf-greedy wave riders who mostly refuse to respect surfing’s rather strict rules. In Africa, the situation is a little better.

dsc_4886-no-caption-probably-senegal
We met some interesting local inhabitants along the way.

With ESP switched off, one can feel on Mauritanian roads as if driving in a rally.

mapa

 

FOR SUCH AN AFRICAN ADVENTURE, ONE DEFINITELY IS WELL ADVISED TO HAVE A CAPABLE QUAD.

Jiří Švamberk

4×4 RECOMMENDED!

That is not to say, of course, that if one does not have a car with 4×4 drive one cannot go to Africa, but I recommend a quad for the sake of peace of mind. The risk of getting stuck in the middle of the Sahara Desert is not such a small matter.

Because working as a motoring journalist allows me to test a variety of cars, I can say with only a bit of exaggeration that there were plenty of possibilities from which to choose. Nevertheless, I'd had a clear idea for a long time as to what I wanted to drive. Without a doubt, I have driven the ŠKODA YETI for more kilometres in my professional work (about 15,000 kilometres) than any other car, and until the arrival of the new SUPERB I had considered it the best product to roll out of the Mlada Boleslav factory.

The choice of engine was not to be taken lightly, either. I anticipated the two-litre turbodiesel engine in the 110 kW model would be ideal for both its fuel consumption and high torque, which in sand would come in pretty handy. I also arranged with the people at the ŠKODA factory to set up the car with all-terrain tires and an automatic transmission. I chose the automatic transmission because I regard Volkswagen Group’s  direct-shift gearbox (DSG) as one of the best automatic transmissions on the market and all-terrain tires because I know what a huge difference they can making when driving off-road, which should be a part of our daily routine for the space of three weeks.

when-ship-is-out-of-services-the-best-thing-to-do-is-to-go-it-rust-_ret

PROBLEMATIC VISA

The Republic of Senegal lies upon the west coast of Africa. Travelling there by car from the Czech Republic means a drive of at least 6,300 kilometres. Once one gets down to Algeciras in Spain, there is practically only one land route. It leads through Morocco, Western Sahara, and Mauritania following the N1 road.

A European spoiled by living in the Schengen Area is unaccustomed to dealing with the when, how and where of border crossings between two given countries. In Africa, a person will quickly get one’s fill of borders and, believe me, to this day I still do not understand some of the situations we encountered. It is true that it was all considerably easier for us, because, thanks to the well-known people at home among the organizers and competitors in the long-distance desert rally, we had connections arranged for us at the African borders, but even so…

It is important not to give them anything,
and first
and foremost not
the documents
from the car.

Jiří Švamberk

Until recently, one needed visas to enter Senegalese territory. Since 1 May of last year, the situation got simpler in the sense that one gets a bunch of stamps and signatures at the borders and need not pay anything for them. That does not mean, however, that crossing borders is a complete breeze.

Mauritania, where one does need the aforementioned visas, became our nightmare. They should provide one these for the price of 120 EUR per person for 30 days at the Mauritanian consulate in Berlin, where I went just before leaving, because I did not want to risk having any problems in this particular country. Nevertheless, a visa is only one of the documents one needs when travelling by car. Another is, for example, the customs certificate, known as the Carnet de Passages en Douane for one’s car. This decidedly does not come for free, and if one does not know about the requirement, one pays dearly for one’s ignorance.

morocco-well-deserved-rest-after-good-surfing-session
A well-deserved rest after some great but strenuous surfing.

 

 

No words are needed.
Children the world over are fascinated with cars.

Driving to Africa with one’s own car has many advantages, because in the case that if the occupants are not listed as owners of the car, one needs a French-language power of attorney with a stamp and the Africans generally create slight problems. Furthermore, due to the previously buoyant imports of used cars from France, the Moroccans will not let one onto their territory without these papers. Before one even gets out of the harbour, one must complete a number of various forms in Arabic and French. There is no need to worry, though, because the local border guards are used to this and are willing to help visitors.

There are plenty of other individuals roaming about in Spanish or Moroccan border territory who are also eager to help out. They can be simply ignored, however. They are generally harmless and just want effortlessly to earn some euro. It is important not to give them anything, and first and foremost not the documents from the car. This may sound laughable, but there are plenty of people who have done just that, and no doubt plenty more will do so in future…

apart-from-big-cities-our-yeti-was-like-form-different-world_ret1

RADAR EVERYWHERE

We planned our first stop to be at Agadir in central Morocco, which is about 800 kilometres from the port city of Tangier. One can drive along the modern highway to Agadir for 65 EUR, or, to save some money, weave one’s way through the countryside on totally cool local roads. This is very time-consuming, however, because Moroccan towns are longer than the week before payday and there are usually several of them in a row.

The quality of the local roads in Morocco is surprisingly good, and not just the motorways but even those of lower classes. One just must get accustomed to the ubiquitous police controls, which seem to grow exponentially in number with the number of kilometres one travels southwards. The Moroccan guardians of law and order also delight in the activity known as radar speed enforcement. They dutifully measure everywhere.

According to our observation, there exists some kind of international game wherein special attention is devoted to foreigners. Our total score was five fines. We bargained over two of these, bribed our way out of one, in another case the policeman was satisfied with a 200 CZK bill, and in the final instance I was relieved of 30 EUR.

Central market in Agadir is where local people shop. It is extremely colourful and lively.
Central market in Agadir is where local people shop. It is extremely colourful and lively.
The fishing village of Imsouane is now more like a surfers’ haven. The landscape is just amazing.
The fishing village of Imsouane is now more like a surfers’ haven. The landscape is just amazing.

From strictly touristic Agadir, home to probably the best known Moroccan surf spots, our journey of around 2,000 kilometres led through Western Sahara to the Mauritanian border. I must say that this region, which in Morocco they refer to as Morocco’s “Southern Provinces” (a somewhat contentious point of which it is good to be aware) and which has caught the interest of perhaps everyone in the general region from near and far, is a pretty interesting place. One probably would not want to live there, though. Enthusiastic motorists will be especially pleased that a litre of diesel costs about 13 Czech crowns, while petrol is priced at about 15 CZK. One need not fear the quality of the fuel, as everyone drives there just fine, although they do change the filters more often. The availability of AdBlue is a little trickier.

The profile of local roads may be described as monotonous, by which I mean exhaustingly straight and seemingly never-ending, but they can surprise one with, for instance, sand drifts. I hit one of those at 3:00 in the morning at a speed of a little over 100 kilometres per hour. Fortunately, the YETI withstood it with absolute self-assuredness.

It pays to arrive early at the border, as one never knows how long one will be held up there. That is why we arrived at dawn and were at the front of the queue of cars. Even so, they released us only after two hours of running about from one station to another.

Ok, the expression is a bit overused, but a Moroccan sunset is truly breathtaking.
Ok, the expression is a bit overused, but a Moroccan sunset is truly breathtaking.

magnificient-place-next-to-dakhla_ret

ROUGH MAURITANIA

Morocco and Mauritania definitely do not have the best relationship, which is clear from the strip of no-man's land approximately six kilometres wide between the two border controls.

At the moment, this bit of desert is under the administration of the United Nations, thanks to which it is no long dotted with land mines. The surroundings are still mined, however, so if one would like to go home in one piece, it is best not to seek an alternative route.

The local landscape has snatched up dozens upon dozens of abandoned cars, and while some were spooky wrecks, the remains of unfortunates seeking a path through the mine field (it makes one shudder to think about it), others appear simply to have been cars which one side or the other refused for some reason to let pass onto its territory.

The military check was thorough – and about as quick as was that at customs. The passport guys told us that our Berlin visas were not valid and that we needed new ones, again for 240 EUR. Somebody probably forgot to tell the guys in Berlin that back home only a biometric visa with photographs and fingerprints had been valid for half a year. This was a rather disappointing development, to put it politely! We tried a little resistance, but without success. In about four hours we stood at the first police control in Mauritania, lighter by 240 EUR, but with another really nice sticker in our passports, which, as we would find out later, is only valid for entry. Should one wish to leave the country again, one must acquire another such sticker. Yes, for another 120 EUR per person.

in-mauritania-there-are-way-much-more-camles-than-real-inhabitans_ret
In Mauritania there are way much more camles than real inhabitans.

In about four hours we stood at the first police control in Mauritania, lighter by 240 EUR.

Jiří Švamberk
Route No. 1 runs from Western Sahara to Mali.
Route No. 1 runs from Western Sahara to Mali.
Sometimes it seemed we had to find our own paths... Cattle were everywhere.
Sometimes it seemed we had to find our own paths... Cattle were everywhere.

Mauritania was for us only a transit country inasmuch as one cannot really surf there, even though we did find a suitable location on our way back thanks to a Spanish girl. We drove the almost 900 kilometres of coastline in two daytime segments, because night driving is not recommended there. At night, there is a great chance that one will run into an unlit car, as a good half of all vehicles on the road simply do not have headlights.

 

 

to-overcome-some-places-you-have-to-wait-until-low-tide_ret

GREEN SENEGAL

At first sight, Senegal is a different Africa. One gets the feeling of being back in civilization again. In addition to men, there are also women on the streets, and the truth is, they are very pretty and beautifully dressed.  Roads are of top-quality asphalt and smooth, and there is greater comfort everywhere. For example, in Saint Louis, one of the largest cities, first generation ŠKODA OCTAVIA and SUPERB cars are popular choices as taxis. Most of the roads around larger cities are asphalt, but if one goes a bit beyond them, one once again finds oneself in dust and sand.

Despite far better roads, the local traffic is significantly slower. While across the Sahara and Mauritania, we hit an average of almost 90 kilometres per hour, here we did less than 50 kilometres per hour, because there is just too much traffic. There are no lane markings, and it is easy to encounter a driver who thinks that even the virtual lane on the opposite side belongs to him. One can get the hang of driving here after a while, though.

senegal-if-you-want-to-make-a-picture-of-me-you-have-to-pay-but-we-have-no-money-here-that-baguette-will-do
If we want to take the seller’s picture, we have to pay her price. And if we have no money in our pockets, well, that baguette will do!

We had travelled about 7,000 kilometres to surf on empty beaches and, as a reward for our efforts and the money spent, the ocean was as flat as a mirror. Believe it or not, we were just so unlucky. There was not a wave to be seen. The locals said it was strange but that it had been like this for more than a week. After four days of waiting for at least decent surfing we turned around and drove back by the same road to Western Sahara and to Morocco, where Poseidon finally greeted us more benevolently.

In 25 days, we drove the ŠKODA YETI 14,500 kilometres with an overall average consumption of 7.6 litres per 100 kilometres. We literally lived in the car for several days in a row.

The fuel consumption of our YETI was a truly interesting phenomenon. Thanks to the north wind (or rather whirlwind) that had accompanied us beyond Western Sahara, the two-litre turbocharged, direct injection engine burned around 5.5 litres of diesel per 100 kilometres. The lowest recorded usage was 3.1 litres per 100 kilometres, but this only lasted for about 20 kilometres or so. On the way back, that same wind was continuously in our face and fuel consumption mounted accordingly.

Senegal is a beautiful country, but one that we did not conquer as surfers. I am really thinking about going there once again – by plane. Taking the risk of driving such a distance again only to turn around and go back, is something I really do not want to do…

In 25 days, we drove
the ŠKODA YETI 14,500 kilometres with an overall average consumption of 7.6 litres
per 100 kilometres.

Jiří Švamberk
senegal-back-there-they-do-not-know-what-maternity-leave-is-really
There is no concept of maternity leave here.