Some people have never heard of the Islamic Republic of Mauritania.
Many who have heard of it know little about it or its people .. and very few outside West Africa have been lucky enough to visit this fascinating country, which most think of as a vast and boring area of flat Saharan Desert sand.
Nothing could be further from the truth as far as Mauritania's topography is concerned.


Picture courtesy of Google Earth - showing the relative sizes of the countries of West Africa|

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Sahara Home The Gambia Dakar St. Louis Rosso Summer in Nouakchott November return to Nouakchott Into the Sahara Views of the Sahara The return journey

My first
visit was in 2001 to see the town of Kiffa, famous in the "bead world" for its production of very specialised powder glass beads, via an overland desert route from The Gambia, in an assortment of bush taxis and four wheel drive local transport, most often in uncomfortable conditions. Enduring baking hot days, very cold nights, sandstorms,
choking dust and the lack of water or choice of food in the company of an assortment of two and four-legged travelling companions in various stages of health, gave me a good understanding of the harsh conditions that the good people of Mauritania have to endure in their daily lives.
Many times, during the 36 hour tortuous homeward journey from the town of Kiffa to Nouakchott, I remarked to my travelling companion "Why on earth would anyone possibly want to live here in the desert ?" Most of this journey was either at night or in the teeth of gale force winds with their consequential sandstorms that completely blotted out the landscape and covered everything and everybody in a thick brown layer of dust. I was sure that there must be some redeeming qualities of desert life I was missing and 4 years later, through a series of fortunate coincidences,
I was able to find out just how many surprising beautiful compensations to the harsh conditions there actually are.
Through a shared interest in African Trade Beads, I was lucky enough to be contacted by .. and form a good friendship with, Gabriel .. a French ex-pat living and working in Mauritania's capital city of Nouakchott.
Gladly accepting his kind offer to visit and stay with him at his home, I journeyed to Nouakchott to meet him and thoroughly enjoyed seeing Nouakchott and Mauritanian life in a 'new light', during a mutually enjoyable week in the Summer of 2005. This visit led to other magical discoveries later in the year .. but first, the Summer Trip:

Mostly told in pictures which are reached by clicking on the blue underlined links in the text
and where indicated, clicking on thumbnail pictures and links within some of the maps which are on the following pages.
Scrolling down to the bottom of the pages will show other links, which you must click to follow the narrative.
The journey by bush taxi from a sad
Gambia as far as my many friends were concerned, via overnight stops in Dakar and St Louis in Sénégal, over the River Sénégal border crossing at Rosso and on to Nouakchott, was almost uneventful.
I say almost .. but, at the risk of ruining a few readers' appetites, I will tell you about a slight problem that occurred on the journey. Although for those of you with a nervous or delicate disposition, I have put this rather grizzly tale on another page .. perhaps it would be better if you stayed on this page and continued reading the more pleasant bits.
Please remember YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED if you do click on this
link to read it !!

The rest of my journey was fine, apart from the above and the usual 50 strong crowd of hustlers at Rosso. After I had told a few really obnoxious ones who were purposely blocking my path, to go forth and multiply .. the mock arguments amongst this gang, with one half pretending to be supposedly trying to protect me whilst the other half tried to hustle me, ensured I missed the last ferry crossing the River Sénégal from Rosso Sénégal to Rosso Mauritania by 2 minutes.
So I hired my own pirogue at the usual exorbitant fee charged to passengers that have been successfully stranded and eventually won a battle of wits and words with an avaricious Mauritanian immigration official who demanded baksheesh
( a bribe, ooops sorry, a present ! ) in return for putting an entry stamp on my perfectly correct passport and visa.
Nothing much changes in the two Rossos !!

Arriving well after dark at the prearranged Hotel Halima meeting point in Nouakchott, I found that my UK mobile phone company did not not have a link with the local Mauritanian telephone service and my phone was non operational, so
I entered the hotel to try to find a way of contacting Gabriel and announce my arrival. Typically travel-worn, covered in dust and walking with a pronounced limp, I found myself surrounded by immaculately dressed Mauritanian gentlemen in European suits with their equally attractive and expensively dressed ladies. Non other than most of the government ministers and their wives who were attending a conference there ! To give him his due credit, the hotel manager approached with a big smile and instead of grasping this scruffy Toubab by the collar and escorting him to the nearest exit, actually used his own mobile to call Gabriel for me. Thank you kind sir .. although I bet you were mightily relieved when I made a swift departure to stand outside and wait for my host Gabriel to arrive !!