Mauritania's Story

Trip Start Apr 11, 2009
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8
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Trip End Jan 08, 2010


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Monday, April 6, 2009

Mauritania

After 3 weeks traveling through Morocco, there was little expectation that Mauritania would provide much interest - it was seen as a transit country through which we must travel to continue on to other more exciting countries. However, this is why I travel - expectations are often crushed and you discover places that enlighten your sense of wonder and challenge you beyond your previous experiences.

After the border crossing on 4th April, we were lucky enough to travel alongside one of the longest trains in the world.  There were over 170 carriages full of coal, on top of which many had people waving excitably to us (I don't suppose they get much entertainment on the long ride south).  The night train that travels the same track extends over 2.5km is the longest in the world.

After a night in Nouadhibou, we traveled onto the capital Nouakchatt.  I couldn't quite believe when we reached the city centre to find dusty streets with haphazard street stalls (many were simply tarps on the ground with goods set out at your feet) and decrepit two storey concrete buildings with no clear official government presence.  It highlighted that Mauritania is one of the poorest countries in the world, with little infrastructure or wealth even in the capital.

After catching up with washing (both of ourselves and our clothes), we headed east away from the coastline into the desert.  We traveled several days east to Nema, during which the temperature increased each day as we drove further into the desert landscape.  Towns provided much interest, with seas of blue and bright colour (men wore light blue jelabras, whilst the women wore brightly coloured saris and covered their head according to Muslim faith).  The simple stalls and outdoor butchers provided good produce for cooking, which was also surprising.

Upon reaching Nema, the plan was to drive to Ouolata, and drive back to cross the border into Mali.  Ouolata provided the allure of being on an ancient trade route, on which it was the last stop for the camel caravans before Timbuktu.  Our fate was revealed within the first 5 minutes of trying to find the road to Ouolata - our tarmac road disappeared and the truck bogged for the first time.  This was promptly followed by another bog in which we all slowly learnt the technique of "sand-matting" the truck across 150 metres of soft sand - which involved digging out the wheels, placing sand mats (steel 2m tracks) in front of the wheels, and moving the truck far enough along the track to allow placement of another sandmat....a slow and exhausting process in 39 degree heat. 

Over the next couple of days we got bogged and blew tyres frequently - the worse involving digging the truck out of soft sand for 6 hours in 40 degree heat in the middle of the day (however luckily it was in a village from which we could restock our water supplies and be provided a hut for rest).  After 3 days and several wrong turns, we hit sand dunes which made the journey to our destination impossible and we had to turn back within 26kms from Ouolata, deciding to travel at night when the sand was likely to be cooler and more compact.  The experience divided the truck into travelers who were excited by the challenges that overlanding provide and the others who neglected to consider that driving through Africa can sometimes be hardwork, requiring everyone of the truck to pick up a shovel and contribute.

Overall, Mauritania provided beautiful scenery, colourful people and a memorable overlanding challenge....including not showering for over a week and learning more about the people in which I'm sharing this long and wonder-filled journey.
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