The Town of Atar

Atar is a large sprawling town used mainly as an overnight stop-off for travellers journeying through Northern Mauritania and as a base for tourists visiting the Adrar area. It has an airport with Sunday charter flights to and from Paris and Marseilles .. between October and April .. bursting into life with the arrival of participants and crews taking part in the Paris - Dakar Rally.
-
Travel-weary from our long journey, we were provided with a tasty meal .. for which they had opened their kitchens especially for us .. and had a comfortable night's sleep. Rested and refreshed, the next morning we visited the local market in search of beads, with the assistance of one of the waiters who said he knew all about these things. Well, perhaps he didn't know quite as much about beads as he claimed to, but he certainly knew all the local traders and was an excellent translator.
-
As is the tradition in Mauritania, most of the bead sellers were ladies and a fun .. but somewhat exhausting in the high temperatures ... time was had going from one area of the market to another, being offered a large selection of similar modern beads, but luckily with one or two notable exceptions that were well worth buying. As much entertainment as in the actual bargaining, was watching the 'deals within deals' that were being arranged .. supposedly without us noticing ..
between our guide and the seller or the seller's assistants. Knowing full well that first prices would be higher than normal, considering we were on a tourist route, I was not too surprised when they were sometimes much higher. Mauritanian bead-dealing ladies are very adept at noticing when you are interested in items which are other than just the normal tourist fodder and tenaciously stick to their sometimes exorbitant first prices, with looks of grim determination on their faces.
-
However, it is all a game and many times we would walk away from a failed deal, only to be called back for more conclusive discussions, or our guide would disappear for a few minutes, re-negotiate the price and reappear with the item in his hand, for the price I had originally stuck at. He would happily, but surreptitiously, accept the cash for what had supposedly been agreed with the owner and scurry off to pay them. Sometimes not quite completely concealing the "commission" he was extracting before the money reached its eventual recipient !! In such situations this is normal practise, ensuring the 'spoils' are better distributed amongst the people associated with trading in the markets and is of little consequence to me, as long as the price I pay is a mutually fair one !

Entering Atar we passed by a group of local teenagers, out for a Saturday night on the town !

After driving around following conflicting direction from various local inhabitants ...
more by luck than anything else .. we eventually found the spotlessly clean Hotel el Waha.

The friendly owner and his staff came out to meet us, booked us into one of the bungalows
and promised to organise us a meal. A quiet time of year as far as tourists concerned, despite the other ( owner and staff ? ) vehicles in their car park, we seemed to be the only guests !

Immaculate accommodation bungalows .. TV, A/C, hot water showers and comfortable beds.

As usual, my curiosity got the better of me when I noticed a bed outside the dining room.

Laid out on a sheet on the bed was a collection of local fossilised stones.
-
When I enquired the next morning if they were for sale; "Oh yes", came the reply .. and so did the suggestion of a rather high 'tourist price' for each ! I replied with; "Aaah well .. they are interesting, but not that interesting, I think I will leave them this time." A stoic shrug was all I received from the staff member / local entrepreneur. Later, as we were driving out of the hotel, he sprinted across the car park and thrust one of the best examples through the car window ( luckily open at the time ) into my hand. "A present sir," he said with a big smile !
-
Thank you again my friend. Although a treasured item, it was somewhat too heavy to be easily carried on my road journey back to The Gambia. So it now proudly sits in Gabriel's fine home in Nouakchott, as a reminder of our journey, the generosity of newly-made friends and of ancient times in Mauritania's past evolution. One day hopefully, we will identify it .

Examples of the more interesting finds from Atar market .. most were eagerly snapped up when offered for sale on www.africantradebeads.com . Click on the item for more selections.