#09 – Hellish Mauritania
Just about 200 m behind my tent ran a train track which is used by the second longest train in the world! With a big noise, I heard the mineral transporting train passing two times. It is possible to hop on the train and travel more land inwards, but I was afraid it would be too hot over there.
As I cycled, the temperature increased, as so often. But this time was different. I never experienced such a blast of warmth. At 12 noon I was forced to stop and rest in the shade of a tree. Even in the shade it wasn’t very bearable. After waiting for 5 hours, I realized that I shouldn’t be here and get out of this dessert as fast as possible.
So I continued cycling till it was dark and I reached a relatively large village. Many people were on the street and Arab music was playing. A man told me Ramadan just finished. I wanted to continue cycling, but after only one kilometer in the dark I found it unsafe and found myself lucky to just pass a cheap hotel. Here I learned that it was 46 degrees Celsius today.
I woke up at 6 am in my tent at the garden of the hotel. I was supposed to sleep on a mattress on the ground in a communal area, as so many other Mauritanians do in the hotel. The television was on and there was a pressing heat, enough reason to put up my tent and have a proper sleep.
Today’s mission was to make a lot of kilometers to come closer to the coast and escape from the extreme heat. Unfortunately this plan didn’t work out and I was forced to hide from the sun behind some solar panels.
After resting five hours I resumed my race against the heat. I passed many carcasses of animals and cars, a few police checks and some small villages. Just before sunset I found a nice spot to camp, in the middle of some desert dunes. It was kind of exciting since it would be the first wild camp experience in the desert, without having any permission.
Suddenly I woke up in the middle of the night. I didn’t use the outside tent, so I could look up to the sky while laying in my tent. And to my surprise I saw the Milky Way, the collection of stars shown in a wide band, seen from somewhere in the spiral of our galaxy. Unfortunately, I had to catch some more sleep.
At sunrise I started cycling. If I would be lucky and cycle fast enough, I would make it to Nouakchott before the hottest part of the day. Luckily there was a major tailwind, helping me on my mission to reach the country’s capital. When I arrived here on time, I treated myself with a stay in a hotel.
The layer of sand and sweat that got washed off me by the shower made me feel human again. Later, I went into town and plunged myself in the enormous crowd. An officer told me there was a feast going on due to the end of Ramadan. One of the enjoyable moments was when a group of kids were dancing on the music of a passing car, which was equipped with four enormous speakers on the roof and clearly wanted to create a street party.
Ghost towns, or not?
The morning in the hotel mainly consisted out of resting, eating, uploading and updating. After noon I got back on the bike. Escaping Nouakchott was definitely one of the most unpleasant things I’ve done in this trip. Over an stretch of 15 km I had to ride defensive next to the many cars.
Once outside the city I felt more comfortable. The temperature in this part of the desert was more bearable. Soon I started to pass many small houses and huts, most of them seemed abandoned and not being used for years. And they kept on coming. To set up my tent, I entered a small road leading to some empty huts.
Suddenly I see one kid playing far away, and another one, and two more. They invite me in their hut and totally flabbergasted I see six kids, seven women and one man. This appeared to be their holiday house and with the whole family they are playing a Mauritanian game with wooden sticks, four against four and with a small sand dune to keep the score. They let me stay for the night in another hut, together with their guardian Ali.
Back to life
Ali the tea-specialist kept on pouring tea in a small cup and back into the pot. It’s the way they make and drink tea. They pour it from a high distance to create a single centimeter layer of foam, to improve the taste. After three of these sugar bombs, I was ready to go.
The so far good road became worse after some kilometers. It became a real test to find the best route on the seven meter wide asphalt lane. The landscape changed fast visibly. A few trenches became many trees. The yellow sand became white and brown sometimes. The few dromedaries became a wide scala of plant eating animals. And there even appeared dry grass.
Kids beside the road said ‘bonjour’ for almost the whole day and forced me to ignore them after a while. Although I appreciated their attention very much, I just couldn’t find the energy to answer them back. Luckily I was able to find a good camping spot with lots of dry wood to make a fire to cook.
Rest out very well I faced my last day in Mauritania. The road became from good to worse to really bad and almost not cyclable. However, it was all compensated by the surrounding, which now was full with trees, water, donkeys, horses, cows, boars, camels and more. It was a real feast to see so many wild animals living together.
With mixed feelings I experienced this intense country. Although I don’t regret visiting this place, it’s not likely that I will return to here. After 60 km I entered the border to a new country: Senegal. I cycled to Saint-Louis, a picturesque city with old French houses along a boulevard. But that’s not where I was going to today.
I found a host on Warmshowers, living in one of the poorest area’s of the city. He’s working at an association to educate children and assist pregnant women. It was all very interesting and he showed me around at his working place.