We only had 5 days in Mauritania, and unfortunately much of it was spent driving. Though we did manage to wrangle a full day to explore in both Nouadhibou and Nouakchott.
In contrast to Morocco, Mauritania really felt as though we had crossed into “real Africa” – the chaos, the heat, and the women draped in the most beautiful patterned fabrics.
Our campsites in both towns were tucked away behind big gated walls. The first we nicknamed ‘Auberge d’construction site’, because we’re pretty sure that’s exactly what it was. The second felt as though we were camped in someone’s front yard, because well, we pretty much were. The only way we could fit all of our tents, plus the truck, plus the owner’s vehicles into the campsite was to set up our tents on the roof top overlooking the streets of Nouakchott.
Now that we’re in the heat, most of our group are sleeping under the stars in their sansbugs, these standalone mosquito nets, so the rooftop was a shanty town of mosquito netting. Still, it was a nice change from the rocky desert ground we’d grown accustomed to sleeping on in the Western Sahara.
In Nouadhibou, Steve took some of us out on one of his increasingly famous “tourist trips”. We drove out to Cap Blanc on the coastline in search of some special and elusive kind of seals. Apparently there are only 100 left in the world, and Cap Blanc is the only place you can see them. As it turns out we didn’t see them, but we did discover an abandoned shipwreck and for the first time in my life I got to step foot in the Atlantic Ocean!
Nouakchott was a much bigger and more chaotic city, and in our free time we ventured out to its famous fish markets. I can’t even begin to describe the scale and energy of these markets as it truly is. The beach is lined as far as the eye can see with a rainbow of painted fishing boats. Fisherman lie asleep or sit smoking and laughing underneath the shade of the boats, watching each catch come in for the afternoon. It’s a melting pot of characters and many of them don’t even seem to work there, they seem to dress up and come down with their mates just to be a part of it all.
It would have been great to be able to explore more of Mauritania, and I’ll be keeping an eager eye on how it develops over the years to come. But in just the 5 days we spent there, I discovered a world full of warm, open people who want to welcome you into their country. It’s such a shame that this aspect of Mauritania gets lost amongst the politics.