Into the Sahara

The Journey across the Mauritanian Sahara from Nouakchott to Kiffa

The next morning, Roeland continued his journey to Atar and as it was midweek, I had a few days to explore some other areas of Nouakchott before the weekend, when Gabriel had organised a few days off from his work so that we could make our trip to Kiffa. It was much windier than on my Summer visit and the air was sometimes quite 'foggy' with a fine mixture of sand and dust in suspension. Click the picture below for some views of the people

and animals going about their normal daily lives in the outskirts of the city near Nouakchott's airport,

I visited my friends in the local bead markets and was pleased to find that they had collected some lovely specimens of antique Kiffa and ancient Medieval beads for me.
These beads are very rare to find, especially in good condition, so some spirited but friendly bargaining was necessary to achieve mutually acceptable prices. The dealers were well stocked with beads ..
Czech, Indian, Venetian, local Stone and African amber .. which is not the fossilised tree sap of Baltic Amber, but varied mixtures of plastics, the oldest of which were imported from Europe in the 1800s to be fashioned into beads, some of which are highly priced and very collectable. Click the picture below for scenes of the market bead shops.

Most said that business was not very good, mainly due to the recent increase in strength of the local Mauritanian currency .. the Ouguiya .. which had risen in value against international currencies by 20% since my summer visit, only five months previously. Evidently the Mauritanian government had already started 'flexing its financial muscles' in advance of developing the oil and gas reserves off their coastline. Good for some but not so good for others !

Away from the main markets, another dealer sold me some beautiful antique Silver filigree beads,

that when found were completely black with age, but which he had patiently cleaned to perfection.

In other, more general markets, many ladies .. most of the professional bead dealers are men .. were selling cheap glass and plastic beads, modern necklaces and Prayer Strands all imported from India and the Far East. One surprise was to find a display card with cheap metal finger rings, each with a half cut Venetian Chevron. Not highly priced, but very roughly made and with no country of origin on the card. Interesting !

The weekend arrived .. Gabriel loaded up his Nissan with enough equipment; tinned food, fresh food, assorted fruit, bottles of water, bread, canned drinks, camping and cooking equipment, vehicle spares and technical wizardry to equip ten people for two weeks. Soon after dawn, the pair of us set off towards the Sahara for our 4 day desert trip !!

It would be my second visit to Kiffa and Gabriel's first .. for both of us it was to become a magical experience.
For me to re-meet old friends and for Gabriel to make new ones in Kiffa and for us to be lucky enough to be invited to witness at first hand the skills of the ladies who are still
making the fabled powdered glass Kiffa beads , were enjoyable enough in themselves and would have been sufficient to make our journey worthwhile. But .. with the benefit of riding in a superbly equipped, latest model, powerful and smooth Nissan Patrol and to have the most perfect weather conditions one could ever wish for .. the variety in the desert landscape that we saw was truly amazing.
Far from being just an enormous area of barren sand, the Mauritanian Sahara Desert is an ever-changing montage of subtle colours, incredible mountain ranges, large herds of animals and the occasional rich and green oases .. all of which suddenly and almost magically seem to appear. Something I had never considered, but which Gabriel pointed out many examples of, were the variations in the colours of the sand. On top of some really large dunes it would sometimes be almost a deep red .. but where rivers or lakes had once been in existence .. hundreds if not thousands of years ago .. and where many modern day villages are still sited, the sand was a silvery white. Widely separated villages of block houses, either with tiny windows or none at all, were set out in long lines along the sides of the few main roads or scattered in a seemingly haphazard fashion over large areas, contained a mass of humanity who were nowhere to be seen at times of the highest temperatures, but who filled the streets in the cool of the early mornings and evenings.

My camera was never far from my hand and with Gabriel's expert assistance and seemingly endless patience ..
stopping 1001+ times every time I went "Oh WOW just look at that !!", kindly lowering my electric window for me whilst
I adjusted zoom settings as we sped along the road and often using the windscreen washers to ensure a clean, non-fly spattered forward view .. I took 100's of superb pictures of some of the most remarkable landscapes I have ever seen.

Using panoramas, slide shows and still pictures, linked from the next page .. I would like to share some of these sights with you and hope that I can convey some of the magical beauty of this little-known country which was previously unknown to me, due to the horrendous weather conditions on my 2001 visit. I am so glad I returned ..