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March 31st 2007
Published: March 31st 2007
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Port de PechePort de PechePort de Peche

You can't get fresher than this.
There are numerous terms, of varying political correctness, to describe the stage of development of African countries. To give you an idea of where Mauritania is at, the election campaign pledge of the recently appointed president was “to stamp out slavery for good!” The slave trade was only outlawed here in 1980 but apparently it continues.

Mauritania is a fascinating country to travel through, the population being some of the hardiest people on earth. After driving for hours through empty and unbroken sand seas you often come across small villages, desperately trying to stay afloat above the shifting sands. The villages consist of tents made from many individual patches of cloth looking like overgrown tortoises. It is amazing that the rag tag structures survive the unremitting sand-laden fiercely hot wind. And what these people find to eat is an absolute mystery.

The capital Nouakchott commonly features highly on traveler’s lists of the worst cities in the world. I liked it. True, on the sandy roadside strip that passes as a pavement, there is often so much rubbish that you are literally paddling. True, the litter pavements often hide open sewers or sharp lumps of concrete. And if they
Fishing Boats at Port de PecheFishing Boats at Port de PecheFishing Boats at Port de Peche

The captains try to outdo each other in the colours, patterns and flags on their boats.
don't get you the maniac drivers, all in extremely battered old Mercedes, certainly will, as they barge pedestrians out of the way in order to undertake equally battered Mercedes.

The reason I liked Nouakchott is also one of the main reasons that I liked Mauritania. The country sits right inbetween Arabic North Africa and Black "Proper" Africa to the south. Rather than being a mixture of the two it has a unique identity and is unlike either.

Nouakchott doesn't really have anything in the way of tourist sights, but it does have one must see. Port de Peche, the fishing port and market is ace. It is a 5km drive through a sandy wasteland of crumbling houses and piles of litter. Strange that the city actually sprawls east into the sand dunes rather than west to the sea. This shows the desert leanings of the Mauritanians. In fact, many of the fisherman are Senegalese immigrants. The locals prefer to muck about on camels not boats.

For about 2km along the beach it is dificult to spot a vacant piece of sand due to all the fishing boats. The boats are 10 - 15m long, heavy wooden streamlined
Bustling Port de PecheBustling Port de PecheBustling Port de Peche

My highlight of Mauritania.
things with big outboard motors. The motors are required just to get out past the heavy Atlantic swell.

The cold Canary current sweeps up the coast here creating very rich fishing grounds. However, to finance their huge national debt, the government sold the fishing rights to the EU. This has led to large ships trawling up and down the deeper water leaving nothing for the local inshore fisherman. Or at least that is what I had read. In fact most boats I saw arriving were full of fish and the market was certainly well stocked.

The boats are always painted with bright patterns and inscriptions. Combined with the fabulous dress of the locals, the beach is a kaleidoscope of colour. Above the sound of the crashing waves you can hear teams of men singing as they hauled their boats up the beach, and children giggling as they stared at us rare tourists. Add to it the concoction of smells and you might be able to appreciate what an experience it was.

Heading east, away from the coast, the sand dunes gradually became flat dry scrubland. Despite the aridity and desolation, every 100km or so you pass a
Port de Peche Port de Peche Port de Peche

It was great to be the only tourists on the beach.
little town and countless run down villages, all full of happy, colourful people. Some even had small markets selling fruits and vegetables, god knows where they grow it.

If you can handle the heat, 46 in the day and 38 at night, go to Mauritania.

Additional photos below
Photos: 11, Displayed: 11


Three Women and a TortoiseThree Women and a Tortoise
Three Women and a Tortoise

Could be the name of a film.
Kids in NouadhibouKids in Nouadhibou
Kids in Nouadhibou

They were too shy to let me have a game.
Kids in Ayoun el-AtrousKids in Ayoun el-Atrous
Kids in Ayoun el-Atrous

Its incredible that they are so happy despite there being absolutely nothing to do here.
A Typical Mauritanian SceneA Typical Mauritanian Scene
A Typical Mauritanian Scene

So the people must survive by eating the cows, but what do the cows eat?
Full Moon in The DesertFull Moon in The Desert
Full Moon in The Desert

It was so clear that you could hardly see any stars. The full moon turned night into day.
Road to NouakchottRoad to Nouakchott
Road to Nouakchott

You have to get used to this view.
Don't Daydream on These RoadsDon't Daydream on These Roads
Don't Daydream on These Roads

This was only a mile or so outside of the capital.

21st May 2007

Great writing! I really enjoyed reading about this unusual place. Thanks.

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