Deep Into The Sahara, Mauritania, Oct 19 -22, 2007

Trip Start Sep 19, 2007
Trip End Jan 05, 2008

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Flag of Mauritania  ,
Friday, October 19, 2007

We interrupted out southward journey along the coast for a four day adventure into the Adrar region deep in the Sahara Desert in central Mauritania.  Deserts never cease to amaze me in their variety of land forms, scenery, and vividness of colors, and the Sahara is no exception.  The drive towards Chinguetti was a stunning visual melange of asnd dunes in white, sand dunes in red, black rock desert, brown canyons, and distant purple mountains, all under the bluest of skies.  The Sahara is desert at its most extreme, the world's largest with an area larger than that of the continental United States and stretching across Africa from the Atlantic Ocean to the Red Sea.  The Sahara includes some of the hottest, sunniest, and driest places on the globe and with almost a third of its total expanse covered with sand dunes called ergs it may most closely conform to the traditional image of desert of all the world's dry patches.  Although the Sahara Desert lies in countries with substantial populations, most of the people of those nations live either north or south of the desert, and the Sahara itself is inhabited only by small populations of oasis dwellers and true desert nomads
How I feel about wide open spaces like Sahara desert is summed up by the following quote I noticed posted on Daphne's announcement board: 
"One of the gladdest moments of human life methinks, is the departure on a distant journey to unknown lands.  Shaking off with one mighty effort the fetters of habit, the leaden weight of routine, the cloak of many cares, and the slavery of home, man feels once more happy." - Sir Richard Burton 
Our trip to the Adrar provided a taste of the real off-the-beaten-path Sahara where few travelers venture.  We traveled nearly a full day and several hundred miles on well paved roads to the provincial capital of Atar and then on graded dirt roads to Chinguetti, rising from lowland country via a spectacular canyon up to Nouatil Pass and the Adrar Plateau on which Chinguetti is located.  The region would appear to have great potential for more adventure tourism.
As we traveled into the desert I kept thinking about the Paris-Dakar Rally, now just called the Dakar Rally because it no longer originates in Paris, the most famous race in motor sports, which since 1978 has traversed a varying route each year through much of the same country we traveled through.  Western Sahara and Mauritania have been the standard routes for nearly two decades since Algeria's civil war essentially closed that country to most foreigners.  In 1982 Mark Thatcher, son of then British Prime Minister Maggie, went missing for a week while driving it.  Personally, I have mixed feelings about such rallies.  While I think it's pretty stupid to waste lots of petrol racing long distances for promotional money, badly impacting the environment in the countries it passes through and even resulting in the deaths of some local bystanders along the way, the adventure aspect of a race across some of the most inhospitable terrain on earth really appeals to me. 
In a postscript to the chapter, on my flight home from Africa more than two months later I heard the startling news that the decision had just been made to cancel the Dakar Rally for the first time in 30 years just as it was about to begin because of security concerns.  This cancellation took place after France advised its citizens against travel to Mauritania because of the Christmas Eve killing of French tourist family picnicking beside road east of Nouakchott followed by three policemen killed at checkpoint the next day.  A group associated with Al Qaeda claimed credit for the killings.

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