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Starting early in the morning, we had driven the 350km south from Dakhla and arrived at the Western Sahara/Mauritanian border early afternoon. After a quick stop for lunch and a refuel, we entered the Moroccan border area and completed the formalities swiftly. No need for a fixer, just a small form to fill in, then a visit to the Douane, the Police and a final visit to the Army. The gates were opened; a rifle carrying soldier waved us through and we were in no man’s land. We were on our quest for Mauritanian visas part 2. Part 1 happened earlier in Rabat, Morocco.
No Man’s Land
This no man’s land is a 5km stretch of desert with tracks, unmarked minefields, car wrecks, abandoned fridges and televisions; a few hundred fixers, taxi drivers and prostitutes all roaming around on the track touting for business.
Quest for Mauritanian Visas
We crossed without issue and joined a queue at the Mauritanian border gates. Again fixers offered to help and after a while we agreed with one of them to guide us through this mayhem. He took copies of our passports and shortly returned saying the internet was down so we would not be getting visas today; we could sleep in the border area. He told us where to queue at 8am so we could obtain our visas. He said that by 8:30am there would be an explosion of people. I had a feeling this was not going to be easy, which was why we had wanted to collect our visas in Rabat.
We had a surprisingly peaceful night and a great sleep in the border car park. Next morning at 7:45am Angela and I were first in the queue at the visa office door. By 8:30am there were 50 or so people, mainly truck drivers hovering around the door. We waited quietly amongst the hustle and bustle. At 9:30am, the door opened and the crowd surged forward. The visa officer had a list of 27 names and he started calling for some of them. Having prime position, I read the list. No surprise that our names were not included; so much for our fixer! Those being called appeared, pushed forward through the growing hoards, into the visa office and the door was slammed shut. We were still first in the queue!
At 10:30am the same thing happened again; lots of names called and the lucky few pushed through the crowd and the door slammed shut. The crowd had not changed in size and there was a surge forward. The truck drivers were getting agitated; one even pushed up to the door, hammering it to try and break it down, almost throwing Angela aside in the process.
It was getting hot, maybe 35°c and the doorway is not sheltered from the sun. I was weighing up where I was going to tactically slap this 6ft Tall Burley Pusher In. Perhaps he would be more polite after he got up off the ground.
Suddenly Angela pushed him back and told him to lose the testosterone and wait. In a loud and very formal English voice she said “look the door is closed. See? Look, closed. Locked. It even has a guard on the other side,” and trying the handle gently on the door she continued. “Look it is still closed so now stand back and wait in line. There’s a good chap!”
This made our fellow applicants chuckle and then they joined in with a barrage of Arabic abuse directed at 6ft Burley Pusher In. Clearly some men are very brave behind a woman’s skirt. I of course said nothing and just smiled in what I hoped was a more menacing way than I was actually feeling.
Eventually one of the drivers suggested Angela push herself in on the next door opening. I gave her my passport and 50 euros and at 11am, she managed entry into the visa office. Inside there were many applicants, all coming in through a back door with their fixers. Entry to the office did not mean you were any closer to being dealt with. Visa money and kdu (a gift) was taken from those using the back door and placed into different drawers. Our fixer popped his head in the back door and was told to do one by the visa officer, so we had clearly picked the wrong fixer. Angela gave him an “I am not amused” glare as well.
Meanwhile outside, I had left the queue. I had needed a smoke and some water. It is Ramadan so no public drinking, eating or smoking and after 4 hours of pushing and jostling from those in the queue, my patience was wearing. I was hoping Angela could get me called in, or she would manage to get a visa in my passport, else we were going to be here all day as I would need to attempt to retrieve my place at the front of the queue. Or find another fixer who could help for a small fortune.
At about 1:30pm, the door opens and Angela leaves the office but does not move from the doorway. Instead she stands at the door, by default at the front of the queue and not seeing me anywhere, calls “Where’s my husband?” I smile from my position away from the crowd and push my way forward to join her at the front of the queue. Clearly many truck drivers have a fear of Angela after the earlier incident and they just look on with some confusion over what she is doing.
Once I have reached her, Angela explains that to obtain a visa your biometrics are collected so she was unable to obtain my visa for me. Her own visa secured, and having been in line for almost 6 hours, she was off to get a much needed coffee. Encouraging (telling) me to ensure I did not lose my place at the front of the queue she turned to the crowd that still had 6ft Burley Pusher In jostling for position. Looking at them all she says in a loud English accent, “Now, he was here before all of you and he is still first in the queue. So be nice to him. I’m off to Mauritania.” And with that she leaves me there and the crowd part to let her through.
The mutinous crowd of visa applicants mutter obscenities at this swift game changing tactic but a few drivers who have stood with us for the last 6 hours shout back that I was the first so shut it, multiple times in Arabic, French and even English. Only minutes later, I was allowed entry and received my visa. Half an hour later and the final formalities with the Douane, Police and insurance brokers completed, we are let out into Mauritania.