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Thirteen days in the Sahara

Thirteen days in the Sahara

Old Dec 27, 18, 2:06 pm
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Thirteen days in the Sahara

I've recently returned from spending time in the Sahara desert, the largest of this planet's many deserts. More specifically, I spent nearly 2 weeks exploring very remote corners of the nation of Mauritania.

Mauritania doesn't get much attention (and relatively little tourism), but its actually the world's 29th largest country, and sits on Africa's west coast, south of Morocco & Algeria, north & west of Mali, and north of Senegal. Nearly 99% of the country is desert. Many consider it to be one of the world's last remaining traditional desert cultures (more on this in a bit). Truth be told, I originally wanted to visit Mali instead (Timbuktu, etc), but the security situation there made it impossible, if I wanted any assurance of returning alive & unharmed. Thus, I started searching for alternatives, that weren't overrun by tourists (Morocco, Egypt), didn't have painful entry requirements (Algeria, Sudan & Tunisia), and weren't considered unstable or dangerous (Libya, Chad & Niger). Technically, the US State Dept still categorizes Mauritania as a level 3 (reconsider travel) destination (just below the level 4 'do not travel'). However, all the information from those on the ground suggested that the warning was vastly overblown, and the chances of danger were quite low as long as I kept away from the eastern Algeria & Mali border region.

Getting to Mauritania was not too difficult. I flew Air France (economy) for most of the distance (SFO -> CDG -> DSS). I flew on Mauritania Airlines between Dakar & Nouakchott (the capitol of Mauritania). The Mauritania Air flight was on an older 737, but other than that, it was fine (they even had a basic food service).

Mauritania is not a wealthy nation. Iron mining is their largest industry (google the 'iron ore train' for more on that), but that benefits very few of their citizens. Outside of their 2 coastal cities, most of the country lacks electricity, safe drinking water, or even a reliable food supply. While that's not good, it does mean that change is very slow, and many people still live very traditional lives. Many are still goat or camel herders, nomads, living in simple tents that they move based on the seasons & weather. Camel caravans are still a thing (although not quite at the same level as hundreds of years ago). Many days, I visited with these people, stopping in for tea. Or they'd visit us. One evening, just before sunset, as dinner was being prepared, this guy wandered into our camp, from I have no clue where. He shared tea with us, chatted for over an hour (well past sunset), then got up, and walked off into the darkness. I'm guessing he lived in some tent, somewhere out there, but it was both creepy and amazing to see him wander into the night, with nothing other than his experience to guide him.

Enough rambling, you came here for the photos, right?


For a sense of scale, look for the tiny, white Toyota Hilux parked in the center left


Dead horse tells no tales


Caravan route


Chinguetti dune sea


Oudane ancient mosque


the eye of the sahara. Can be literally seen from space.


Aderg


View opposite Aderg


Someone used to live here


Ben Amera, the 3rd largest monolith on Earth


final campsite


Goat transport


Look for the crocs on the sand bar


Well water


Eating the road


Sahara selfie


the wall


stuck!


a perfect spot for lunch


pyrex 23. A solid 2 hour drive from civilization, they wandered into our camp at dusk, wanting to sell random trinkets.


hours from everywhere


the freeway


goat, its what's for dinner


Ben Amera dawn


Just 173 more miles to the coast


Hundreds of additional photos are available here. A very detailed, day by day trip report is posted here.
As a side note, I also spent about 9 days riding a motorbike south from Dakar, Senegal to Bissau, Guinea-Bissau as part of the same trip. That was also an amazing experience, but for completely different reasons. I've posted a detailed trip report of that portion of the trip here.
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Last edited by netllama; Dec 27, 18 at 2:07 pm Reason: fixing photos
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Old Dec 27, 18, 2:21 pm
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Amazing images. Thanks!
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Old Dec 27, 18, 6:27 pm
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cool trip!
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Old Dec 28, 18, 1:33 am
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Nature looks fantastic. I'm not sure I could handle the trip myself but I appreciate you sharing your experiences.
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Old Dec 28, 18, 3:44 am
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Wow, amazing pictures !
Thanks for sharing :-)
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Old Dec 28, 18, 3:36 pm
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Thanks for sharing your amazing adventure. The pictures (and your blog) were impressive. The entire time I was reading about your meals, my stomach would churn and I am not sure I could handle half the things you ate. Did you bring a lot of imodium or similar OTC stuff to help?
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Old Dec 28, 18, 3:41 pm
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Originally Posted by HawaiiTrvlr View Post
Thanks for sharing your amazing adventure. The pictures (and your blog) were impressive. The entire time I was reading about your meals, my stomach would churn and I am not sure I could handle half the things you ate. Did you bring a lot of imodium or similar OTC stuff to help?
Thanks! I brought Immodium, but never needed it. While I didn't exactly enjoy most of what I ate in Mauritania, none of it made me physically ill. Granted, I've travelled to some strange corners of this planet where eating stuff like grilled rat, raw crab, and guinea pig were considered normal. Eating some bland boiled vegetables was no big deal, it was just tasteless.
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Old Dec 30, 18, 7:50 am
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Indeed amazing!
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Old Dec 31, 18, 8:27 am
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Very unique and a part of the world we don't see many TRs for. Great photos as well.

That Scoot West Africa tour seems like a very interesting way to see some of those countries, though a tad expensive. Can't access your website at work, how did you like that trip? Worth it?
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Old Dec 31, 18, 9:23 am
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Wow, an amazing month in West Africa, netllama! And some awesome photos.

I certainly admire you stamina too, I would need a week or two to recover from this African double whammy!

Shame about the hotel on the western end of Dakar/Africa, a great location for it.

I think I stayed in the same hotel as you in Serrekunda. A bit rough but for $30 night I couldn’t complain.
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Old Dec 31, 18, 1:32 pm
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Originally Posted by ChiefNWA View Post
Very unique and a part of the world we don't see many TRs for. Great photos as well.

That Scoot West Africa tour seems like a very interesting way to see some of those countries, though a tad expensive. Can't access your website at work, how did you like that trip? Worth it?
The Scoot West Africa trip was really great. Granted, I lucked out, and effectively got a private tour, so my experience wasn't exactly typical. It wasn't cheap, for sure, but the amount of time that I would have wasted trying to deal with all of the logistics needed to pull off such a trip made it worth it. Just the border crossings, with the bike, was a massive headache that I was glad that I didn't have to deal with.
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Old Dec 31, 18, 1:34 pm
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Originally Posted by DanielW View Post
Wow, an amazing month in West Africa, netllama! And some awesome photos.

I certainly admire you stamina too, I would need a week or two to recover from this African double whammy!

Shame about the hotel on the western end of Dakar/Africa, a great location for it.

I think I stayed in the same hotel as you in Serrekunda. A bit rough but for $30 night I couldnĺt complain.
Thanks! It was definitely one of the most amazing trips I've done. That's high praise coming from you (I'm jealous of the places you visit).
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Old Dec 31, 18, 2:34 pm
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Fascinating trip. Who was your tour operator for the first part of the trip in Mauritania?
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Old Dec 31, 18, 2:58 pm
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Originally Posted by jadecocoa View Post
Fascinating trip. Who was your tour operator for the first part of the trip in Mauritania?
I used LA GUE¤LA VOYAGES ( LA GUE¤LA ) to manage the entire tour. They also run a guesthouse in Chinguetti, which was, by a huge margin, the nicest place that I stayed in the entire country. Easily 3.5 stars, with AC in my room, very comfortable king size bed, and fantastic food. I originally contacted 4 tour operators. Two never responded at all. The third replied after 3.5 weeks. La Gueila got back to me 3 days after my first email, which convinced me that they were likely the best choice. Anyone taking weeks to respond to a "take my money" email, seems like bad news.
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Old Jan 1, 19, 5:05 am
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Originally Posted by netllama View Post
I used LA GUE¤LA VOYAGES ( LA GUE¤LA ) to manage the entire tour. They also run a guesthouse in Chinguetti, which was, by a huge margin, the nicest place that I stayed in the entire country. Easily 3.5 stars, with AC in my room, very comfortable king size bed, and fantastic food. I originally contacted 4 tour operators. Two never responded at all. The third replied after 3.5 weeks. La Gueila got back to me 3 days after my first email, which convinced me that they were likely the best choice. Anyone taking weeks to respond to a "take my money" email, seems like bad news.
Thank you!
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