Wednesday, September 20, 2006

First Look: Mauritania

My plan is to edit comics for a while, and then in 2007 to take an overland trip from London to Cape Town via West Africa. I'll post daily updates on NoHurryInAfrica.com, same as I did for MariesWorldTour.com.

I have my Lonely Planet West Africa and a map in front of me. The UK to Spain part is no biggie. National Express or Megabus will take me down to Portsmouth, where I'll catch the ferry that goes to Bilbao, then I'll proceed south by bus/train to the ferry to Morocco.

Morocco is well-traveled and should go smoothly, unless one counts touts as an issue. I have no idea (yet) how to transit Western Sahara, so I'm skipping that for the moment.

That takes me to the desert country of Mauritania. I'd enter at the southwestern tip of Western Sahara, at Nouadhibou. This is a peninsula that is split down the center. Half is Western Sahara and half is Mauritania.

Nouadhibou sounds nice enough, with decent hotels and restaurants. From there, there are two interesting options for transport.

Option #1 is an iron ore train. It takes 12 hours to get to Choum, where Toyota pickups wait to take passengers to Atar. (What is Atar? I don't know yet. I'll get to that.) I read that the men on this train can be really fresh. That sounds creepy. I wonder--if I started far enough in advance--if I could score a first-class ticket. Though it's also possible that they would just respect me and ask how many children I have. There are some advantages to traveling at 40 instead of at age 25.

Option #2 is bush taxi (pickup or Land Rover) to the capital, Nouakchott. This is interesting because it can only be done at low tide! "Takes 15 to 20 hours depending on the tides."

Ah, I see. Option #1 it is. Atar is en route to Chinguetti, a top attraction in Mauritania. If I went by tidal route, I'd miss this ancient caravan city, one of the holiest cities in Islam.

I'm starting Arabic lessons on Saturday, and I can muddle through in French. I wonder if I can learn how to say "That is too much. I could buy my own camel for that" in Arabic.

11 comments:

Ed Ward said...

And then, further south, "That is too much. I could buy my own hippo for that."

Marie said...

When in Kuwait, I learned the Arabic for "Where can I rent a camel" and then proceeded to completely confuse our mandoob with it, who couldn't believe I meant what I was saying.

Chip said...

are you going thru Fes? That city is truly magical!

Cyrus said...

Hrm, I'm pretty worthless on Mauritana. Although when I was in Senegal I was really close to the border, you can only (legally) cross at certain points. I know doing a trans-Saharan is difficult, but possible -- and it usually involves a Moroccan military escort given that most of W. Sahara is a minefield from what I understand. I also understand that a Mauritanian visa is expensive/a pain in the ass to get. Not that I'm sure any of those will stop you -- but still. Now Senegal, I'm much more useful on. :)

Marie said...

I've delayed looking into Western Sahara because it sounds like not a lot of fun. To read about it or to do it.

Visas are a pain. I'm not real excited about that. I think Angola is going to be a real challenge.

Marie said...

Chip, maybe I'll go to Fes. I didn't go there before, when I went to Marrakesh.

Ed Ward said...

I'm also wondering about places like Sierra Leone and Nigeria and Liberia, places whose crises I monitor in an offhand fashion.

I assume you're checking the CIA Factbook; it's kept well up-to-date.

Marie said...

I'm not going anywhere near Sierra Leone or Liberia. It's easy to avoid them. Nigeria-I don't see any way around. But of course I'll talk to other travelers as I go and work out the most sensible approach. Maybe I should look up a number of people who have emailed me from Nigeria. Course I never emailed them back, so they might be kind of surprised to find me there...

Ed Ward said...

But...they could fund the rest of your trip in luxury!

Anonymous said...

Hello from Spain! Crossing the desert through the west is easier than Sudan/Egypt. You can go all the way from Spain to Dakar on tarmac roads.(just 5km.of sand between borders)Western Sahara is part of Morocco, don´t miss it! It´s less touristy than the nord of the country and the coast is beautiful, and easy to travel through on bus.
And to cross Mauritania, option#3 get a lift with some overlanders, quite easy in Dakhla.

Marie said...

Gracias! That's is great news, Anonymous in Spain. Wow, all that tarmac. People will think I'm getting soft (but I still have Angola ahead of me). But I'm sure there will be other challenges. Thanks a lot for the info. Option #3 sounds comfy.