Leaving Saint-Louis in a battered car for the border

The Senegal border at Rosso

Crossing the river in a pirogue

First glimpse of Mauritania

Vans piled high with cargo

A stripped car by the side of the road

Trying to pull the truck back onto the road

Random desert community

Rosso, Mauritania

A River Divided

December 28, 2012

Even though Saint-Louis is almost on the border with Mauritania, without your own transport it is necessary to take a two hour ride to the village of Rosso to cross the border. Again my journey was in an ancient car, with nearly the entire car frame visible from within. Sitting in the backseat I could look up and see the sky via a rusted-through hole in the roof. I could also see the road through a small circular hole in the floor. This was very comforting, but fortunately the car was old enough that it could not go fast enough to pose any danger.

The scene at the border was one of the most chaotic I have seen. The second any vehicle pulled up to unload passengers, they were set upon by people offering to help guide them through or somehow profit from their transfer. Of course I looked like a particularly good target to them. Usually there are some signs indicating the immigration office but here there was only a small building staffed by a few officials. Luckily I was able to escape the hounding vultures inside but before long my passport had been stamped and I had to leave.

Despite this being a busy border crossing there is no bridge across the relatively narrow river. There is a ferry that runs back and forth if you have a vehicle, or small boats (pirogues) that transport pedestrians more frequently. Ignoring all the hassles from the people around me I got in one of these boats for the quick river crossing. Immediately on the other side of the river it was another world.

All of a sudden no one was hassling me. It was strange after dealing with it for so many days. Now, though, I almost needed it. There was one large building with multiple lines for different rooms and no signs anywhere. There was one long line for women and another long line for men, but I didn’t know if they were for immigration or emigration. Fortunately I was the only non-local there and the police quickly took me to the special room dedicated for office staff and services for foreigners.

With another stamp in the passport I left the immigration area and was into the Islamic Republic of Mauritania. Cars and trucks were lined up for the ferry crossing and there vans piled so high with cargo that if there were any bridges in Mauritania they could never get around. The people looked a lot different too, Moorish, with a lighter skin tone and a mixture of African and Arabic features. Many of the men wore long extra baggy white or light blue robes over their clothes. The women wore various forms of colorful dress.