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‘In Europe you have watches but in Africa we have time’

So get in your car and wait

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Reg hack John Oates took time out from the Plymouth-Banjul rally — “just like the Paris-Dakar event, but for poorer, more stupid, people” — to file this report from Mauritania.

Looking as friendly as a man in military fatigues in the middle of a minefield can do the Mauritanian immigration official smiled broadly and said: “In Europe you have watches but in Africa we have time – now get back in your car and wait.”

But he was only joking. The first group of this year’s Plymouth-Dakar rally made it safely through the minefields which separate Morocco and Mauritania, and through the layers of red tape involved in bringing an ageing car in little more than two hours.

Thanks to a very helpful man called Momo we made it to Nouabidou in one piece and found Achmed – a 60-year-old man who claimed to be the country’s first official desert guide.

With his help our group of six cars – only one of which is four-wheel drive — made it across the Sahara in three days. This involved a fair amount of pushing and some frankly terrifying driving. Second gear and maximum revs seems to be the answer.

Our little Citroen van, plastered in El Reg vultures, enjoyed the sand and got us through with no big dramas. The driveshaft is clinging on with the help of a handful of plumber’s mastic and the iPod and iTrip still providing music.

New Year’s Eve in Mauritania's capital will hopefully involve some alcohol. After six and a half thousand kilometres we deserve a drink. Tomorrow we head for Senegal and then we are nearly in Gambia and our final destination — Banjul, where the van will be sold and the proceeds given to charity. Last year, the rally participants raised £27,000 for charity.

A very big thank you to all our sponsors who made this possible: all at El Reg, Microsoft UK for picking up the sizeable petrol bill, Classic Car Storage for mechanical genius and tools, and numerous generous individuals. ®

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