Riding the World’s longest train was somethinng I had wanted to do ever since watching Palins Travels. What he did though was to go in one of the passenger carts, but I wanted to get the full experience of riding for free on top of the over 2 kilometers of iron ore carts.
We had arrived in Choum early in the morning, having to wait by the rail tracks until the train finally arrived at 7pm. Then we had five minutes to climb on top and help the people from the neighbor cart get some goats and a donkey on the train as well. The sun was already starting to set and we had a beautiful first hour riding slowly west on the 400km train ride that would take us to the coastal town of Nouadibou.
Having a scarf wrapped tightly around my mouth and sunglasses to protect my eyes from dust and bits of iron ore that was flying through the air I felt really great standing up and watching the train go by small houses and the World’s second biggest Monolith after Uluru in Australia. As it got darker and the train picked up speed it got freezing and I had to withdraw into my sleeping bag and get some rest. After twelve hours on the train we all were shaking cold and completely covered in brown iron ore dust. We had made it through the night and although we all thought that this was one of the coolest things we had done in our lives we all agreed that we would never want to do it again.
As the security situation in Mali had worsened we were told that we would go through Senegal to enter Mali at a different border than originally planned. As it was weekend with embassies not opening before Monday we had a couple of extra days to kill which five of us decided we wanted to spend on an adventure up in the North of Mauritania. We went off early in the morning for a six hour bus ride to Atar, the city connecting the sights of the Terjit oasis, the old trade town of Chinguetti and the World’s second biggest Monolith called Ben Amera. As we got off our bus we noticed that there were two goats fit into bags and laying on top, something we discovered to be perfectly normal around this town.
We found an auberge and asked the owner how to get around and then he said he would be able to take us there for a reasonable price. We cramped in seven people in his tiny car which punctured on the way but got us to the oasis of Terjit and back.
The Oasis was quite different to those I have visited before. It was shaded by a forest of palm trees in a mountain ally with two small rivers running into it, one with hot water and one with cold. The warm water was used for a bath tub that I took a bath in and the cold was running down the mountain walls and was refreshing to drink. When the sun set we were invited up on the nearby mountain top for some tea, dates and nuts while enjoying the view.
Rarely capitals can be said to be a highlight from visiting a country, but for Nouakchott it could. The city is Africa’s youngest capital with its fifty years, but that does not mean that it is modern with tall buildings etc. The city center itself was pretty much like Nouadibou with just a market, a mosque and streets with shops, and then a few kilometers outside were the best part about the city; West Africa’s best fish market and a quality beach. Being at the fish market with over a thousand boats that had just come in with the catch of the day was just an incredible experience. Kids had put a tractor wheel on the sand and used it as a trampoline, and when I joined in with a couple of flips they were really thrilled. Some of the fishermen also came up to us and wanted to know more about us and tell us about life here in Mauritania. On a couple of evenings we were also invited home to some locals. People here are very friendly!
The beach was just five kilometers from the city and was way more relaxing than the beaches where you would find other tourists. No one were trying to sell us things or bother us. Mauritania is absolutely a place that deserves far more tourists.
The border crossing between Morocco/ Western Sahara and Mauritania went smoothly. We had to wait a cou
ple of hours on each side and pay a hefty visa fee of 120 euros each and we were through. On the other side we could feel that there was a whole new adventure awaiting. People were different. There were much more donkey carts on the streets, people seemed poorer and many shops and markwt stands barely had any goods in them. We were in black man’s Africa.
The city of Nouadibou was small and the main street could be walked up and down several times in just an hour. The most interesting part of the city was in the outskirts, like the World’s longest train transporting iron from a mine in Zouerat and a lighthouse we visited on our way out. By the lighthouse there was also a beach with thousands of birds that were fun to chase and a Monk seal weighing over 300kgs. Apparently they are pretty rare and can only be found on this very peninsula and in the Mediterranean.