Mauritania is so sandy!

Trip Start Sep 11, 2005
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Mauritania  ,
Thursday, December 1, 2005

We're in Mauritania!! (A year ago we didn't know where it was!)

Well it was a lengthy drive through Western Sahara - dull, long straight roads but strangely captivating, the journey being broken by frequent police checkpoints, and stopping to help 2 middle aged Frenchmen in their broken down 2CV with a bump start whilst being dragged behind Bronwen (Incidentally the last we saw of them was having their car pushed onto a recovery van and heading north the following day). We travelled the last stretch with Stephanie and Thomas, the "Conteurs du monde" traveling childrens theatre/workshop who we originally met in a car park in Granada, Spain. Good company and it certainly made camping on the forecourt of a petrol station near the border more fun!

The border crossing was slow but trouble free - 3 hours of waiting for passports to be stamped and answering the same questions repeatedly, followed by a fun 7km drive between police posts in no-mans land over a rough piste scattered with the wrecks of old cars and the suspicion of a few lurking land mines. But we made it in 1 piece and got to Nouadibhou with a real sense that we are back in Africa at last (after the relative tameness of Morocco)

One of the main attractions of overland trips through Mauritania has always been the Nouadibhou - Nouakchott piste, with 160km driving along the beach necessary to reach the capital. The new road however was completed this year so, as the desire to do this run was not so great, we opted to travel to Chinguetti via 540km of piste, 420km of which follows the rail track of the famous ore train (the longest train in the world). So, armed with GPS points to help us on our way, plenty of water, and full petrol tanks we set off east- a 4 day trip through the desert to which words cannot really do justice. The piste is a mixture of stony tracks, deep sand and virgin dunes. The nights were fantastic - starry skies and silence (apart from the ore train which you can hear half an hour before you can see it, and of course Jamie's snoring...). Apart from the odd railway workers "village" and the rare sight of another vehicle (including 4 Belgians trying to drive to Mali in a 2wd maintenance lorry (getting stuck in the sand seemed to be a hobby of theirs) we were totally isolated - a unique and amazing feeling. Bronwen carved up the dunes perfectly (most of the time...), getting stuck and resorting to the sand ladders didn't happen too often. The biggest worry we did have though was a 45km stretch of dunes and deep sand where using low gears for the duration could have caused us to run out of petrol (Bronwen is VERY thirsty) so after getting stuck a couple of times we decided to drive around the last few km of very soft sand along the railway line (Keeping a VERY close eye out for trains - luckily the track doesn't have many bends...). Avoiding this soft sand was enough though to get us to Atar without any further worries. We didn't even have to break into our emergency jerry cans!

So, onto the main reason for the epic journey east - the ancient Saharan town of Chinguetti, home to historic koranic libraries, an old mosque and French foreign legion fort, none of which we bothered to visit (philistines!). Spent 3 days relaxing, taking in the atmosphere and getting to know the locals which made a refreshing change from driving straight through places or only staying for a short while. It also coincided with the Mauritania Independence Day celebrations on Nov 28th, which consisted of Camel racing, children's' donkey racing and AK47 Shooting in the desert.

We're now in Nouakchott (meaning place of the wind). The name is true to form, us having to drive through sand storms from 100km inland. Mind you , after 10 days in Mauritania I don't think we'll ever get all the sand out of every nook and cranny (and that's just Bronwen...)

We're off to Senegal and some greenery in a couple of days - the border crossing has a bad reputation so wish us luck!
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