Adventures in Wonderland

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January 3rd 2005
Published: January 3rd 2005
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It's been six days since I was able to get anywhere near an internet cafe - in that time a lot has happened. I am going to write this blog in diary format, day by day as I wrote the entries in my notebook.

Some amazing things have happened in that time, including a bush taxi leaving for a 3 hour journey across the desert without putting any petrol in. It ran out of petrol after half an hour. So, we were stuck in the middle of nowhere. What was the driver thinking of! Did he expect the taxi to run on thin air, or was he expecting to beg the petrol from passing traffic?

Anyway, more of that incident later. I will now use the diary format.


Guess what? The train didn't arrive on time again. And again they promised it would leave tomorrow.

On leaving the internet cafe after writing the last blog Nat and I were walking down the street looking for Richard who had gone to get his hair cut.

Suddenly I heard a bang. I looked around to see a taxi swerving to the right. It stopped.

There was a goat in the middle of the road doing the twist. It stopped, looked dazed as if it was seeing stars, regained its dignity and walked off.

When the taxi realised the goat wasn't hurt it drove off. The driver had probably been worried - knocking down a goat is a serious offence in Mauritania. Although that doesn't stop anyone driving like madmen.

When we got back to the house, I decided I was determined to leave, the others I was travelling with decided to stay. The family had specially bought us Languistines for helping at the port yesterday.

So, I left for the station with Usman. The station is a small building that smells foul, probably caused by a blocked toilet.

So, we waited ... and waited... with a large group of hopeful people. There were various hawkers selling food, water, soft drinks and sunglasses.

Eventually at about 4.30pm a man appeared and started selling tickets. I bought one.

Half an hour later a 4 by 4

A Koran
car arrived, with the initials SNIM on the side. SNIM is the name of the mining company. There were 3 men in the car and they announced that there was no train.

So, they'd sold tickets for a train that didn't exist.

Usman who had waited with me, took me to a shack across the road marked police and demanded my money back.

So, it was back to the Mama family home again.

What's the future? Is it my fate to never leave Nouadhibou? Marry a local lass and set up a fish processing factory?

Stay tuned for the next instalment.


On the 29th of December the driver of the train came to the Mama's house to announce that the train would be leaving. What service!

So, we said our farewells and went to the train station with papa the patriarch of the family. On the way to the station we picked up Richard's Japanese friend Masa from the Auberge Abba. Masa had finally arrived. We caught the train at about 3.30pm.

I had no intention of travelling in the open iron ore carriages. But when the train came there was a big scrum for the one passenger carriage. So, I changed my mind and joined Nat, Richard and Masa in the open wagons. It may be the worlds longest train at over 2 km, but they only put one bogey on for passengers.

The iron ore wagons are empty from Nouadhibou to Zouerat. So, the journey is free if you travel in the open wagons.

As I had expected the journey was fun for the first few hours but...

Sunset looking out over the Sahara was quite some experience and somehow the Philip Glass track Ahkanaten which was playing on my I POD seemed to enhance it.

When the sun set at 7pm the temperature dropped rapidly. Although I didn't feel really cold till about 10pm. It felt much colder than it was because of the biting wind. I couldn't lie down for any period of time - if I did my legs felt like they were going to freeze into blocks of ice. I sat upright and wrapped my towel
The longest train in the WorldThe longest train in the WorldThe longest train in the World

The train at the Noudhibou station
around my legs. The top half of my body wasn't too bad. The waterproof over my microfleese kept the top half warm. Even with the towel over my legs I kept having to rub my legs vigerously to keep myself from getting too cold.

I didn't sleep at all.


At 3.30 am on the 30th we got to Choum. There was no sign with the name on. It fact there were no buildings anywhere near. It's just a stop in the desert. It's the stop to get off for, for Atar. The only way we knew for sure that we had arrived was to shout out the question, "Is this Choum?" Otherwise we might have ended up in the mines at Zouerat.

At Choum we were met by Nissan pick up trucks. Getting from Choum to Atar was quite a performance. It seemed to take forever to leave. We didn't set off from Choum till about 4am. The driver kept changing his mind. Asking us to get on and off several times; trying to charge extra for our backpacks, even suggesting he took our luggage to Atar, left us behind and came back for us later. We we having none of it. We stuck to the original price and were not parted from our backpacks.

He stopped and started a number of times to pick up extra people. At one point he picked up some passengers who had so much stuff it looked like they were moving home.

We got down. The luggage was put up. There was so much stuff that the driver had to tie the mattresses to the back of the pick up. When we got back up, we were all perched on top of the luggage at roof height, squashed together like sardines.

All this was at the coldest time of day before sunrise, so we had no relief from the torture we had suffered on the train. In fact, it was even more uncomfortable than the train.

To add to our miseries we had to dismount twice more because the pick up developed 2 flat tyres.

We eventually got into Atar about 9am. My friends had decided to continue the journey to Chinguetti. I thought they were mad.
On the trainOn the trainOn the train

The headdress is very practical
I couldn't stand the thought of any more time in a pick up that day.

The first place I looked at, I decided not to stay because I didn't trust the person who took me there.

Eventually I ended up at a camping site run by a German/Dutch couple. I was going to post a blog but I tried twice at the internet cafe at mid day and 5pm. On both occasions there was no connection.

I ate at the camping site and enquired about the bush taxi's. They said they would ring in the morning to check. I had a chat with the owners for some time in the evening during which they told me that they knew of people that had managed to cross the Congo with no difficulties recently. The Congo is the one place where I might to decide to fly over the country. But, the borders are open, and I will check out the situation when I get closer.


In the morning of New Years Eve the owners of the site phoned to check the situation with the bush taxi's. They didn't know, when or if anyone would leave. There were not enough passengers. So, I waited for news. I was not aware that it was New Years Eve until someone at the camp asked me what I was doing for it.

At midday a pick up arrived at the camp, unannounced to take me to the Garage Chinguetti for the bush taxi.

The bush taxi didn't actually leave until 1pm. At about 3pm we stopped in the middle of nowhere. It was a settlement of 2 tents. I was invited in and offered goats milk and mint tea.

Soon after starting up again we got stuck in the sand. The place looked like it might have been a ploughed field where the crops had been destroyed. There were desicated stalks sticking out of furrows in the ground. It might have been the result of the plague of locusts that Mauritania had a few months ago. After about 15 minutes the driver got us going again.

At 4pm the bush taxi arrived in Chingetti. I turned down one Auberge and then wandered around the town.

As I was walking around a voice called out 'Stuart'. A young man walked towards me and handed me a note in English which read:

"Bonjour Stuart
My name is Sheriff. Don't shoot me like Bob Marley. I am a bit camp, but please follow me to my love pad, where I have Patrick, Nat, Masa, and Chris locked up in the dungeon, naked. They are on a camel tour for 2 days starting this morning. Follow me to the augerge S.V.P. The boys will return tomorrow night. Meanwhile enjoy the city. My rooms are 400, don't let me charge you any more!
You can wash and pee at the same time in my all the water is in the bucket bathroom with a peep-hole in the door.

So come with me, I'll be so happy,
cos I'm always gay

I'm not sure what Sheriff would have made of the note if he understood English. But it has to be said he is very camp!

Sheriff gave me a free tour of the city. Chinguetti is the 7th holiest city in Islam.

1st JANUARY 2005

New Years Day. I got up early and walked around the city by myself. I visited a number of the Islamic Libraries for which the city is famous. These include old manuscripts on many subjects including Astronomy. The West re-learnt much of its knowledge of the ancient world, of science and mathematics from such documents during the Renaissance.

In the evening the lads returned from their camel trip. 2 of them were not well. Patrick had been very sick and had the runs. Masa had an infection in his eye. During the evening a docter arrived, he had just arrived and was staying in the Auberge. He comes out to Mauritania regularly to do medical work for an NGO. So, they were both lucky, because he gave both Masa and Richard some treatment for free.

2nd January 2005

In the morning we left the Auberge after a brief argument with Sheriff about the price. Having said that, he was as nice as pie later in the town centre when we were waiting for the pick up.

As we walking towards the centre of town we saw a pick up leave that was full. We made no attempt to get on it, despite some people telling us it was the only transport that day. We asked around and found the shop that was the garage for pick ups for that day. The men in the shop quoted a price of 17000 for the 5 of us. We asked for 10000. At this point there was no vehicle there. We had a discussion as to what to do. We voted 2 to stay, 2 to leave and 1 person sat on the fence.

Then a vehicle arrived which it was clear was leaving for Atar whatever happened. So, they came down to 12000. It

Don't shoot!
was clear that we could be standing around for some time. So to force the pace we picked up our bags and pretended to leave to find an Auberge.

It worked, the price fell to 10000, that is 2000 each. So, we got on the pick up. Later we thought that maybe we had overpaid.
This is the pick up that I mentioned in the introduction.

It didn't just run out of petrol once, but twice! The first time half an hour from the start, the second time half an hour's drive from the destination. The first time he broke down he begged some petrol from passers bye. But it was obviously not enough. We also had to sacrifice a water bottle so the driver could use it as a funnel to pour the petrol into the tank.

It then wouldn't start because the driver had made so many attempts to restart the vehicle with no petrol in. So it had to be jump started. It was not a comfortable ride, when it was working. He drove far too fast - was he trying to lose us off the back?
Also there was a very strong and cold wind.

The second time we ran out of petrol was high farce. The driver wandered off in another car and left us alone in the middle of the desert.

The Mauritanian passengers gathered some fire wood and lit a fire. The big Jerry Can of water in the back of the pick up had leaked all over our backpacks. When the Mauritanians passengers realised there was no water in the Jerry Can they asked the Westerners if we had any water. We had to tell them that we had sacrificed our water for the petrol at the last breakdown. The intention had been to make tea - not a sign that anyone thought we would be moving soon.

After about half an hour the driver returned with some petrol. We rolled into Atar about 3pm.

We all got off the pick up and it drove off. At which point Chris realised he had left a small bag in the back! He ran after it, and someone gave him a lift to chase the pick up.

Chris retrieved the bag, but the person who had given him the lift didn't think he had offered enough money. There was a row.

We waited for a bus for the capital city - Nouakchott. We caught a mini bus at 5.30 with side facing seats. The most comfortable transport I've been on for ages. Although it didn't have a handle or a lock on the back door.

3rd JANUARY 2005

We finally rolled into Nouakchott at 1am. We took a taxi to an Auberge. There were no spaces in any rooms, so we had to sleep in the tent.

That brings me up to date.

Additional photos below
Photos: 18, Displayed: 18



On the back of the pick up going from Chinguetti to Atar. The one where the driver didn't appear to believe in paying for petrol.

19th May 2017
On the train

West Sahara
My Land Rover got a flat tyre traveling along the train line to keep away from land mines. The track was peeling away from itself in huge shards. This was back in 1993

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