Sunday, March 27, 2011


Not exactly, as you'll gather from the photos above, the pearl of the Atlantic - Nouadhibou is little more than a large coastal town which sits precariously on the Cap Blanc peninsula. Aside from its rich fishing waters, Nouadhibou also attracts a high number of foreign vessels due to its lax regulations which have meant that the waters off its shores have become something of a shipping graveyard. There is but one main street in the city along which there are various clothes shops, grocers, banks, restaurants and, it seems, enough hairdressers to make this the coiffeur capital of Africa. There are no menus in the restaurants here - if they’re not serving fish with rice then, quite simply, they’re not serving. If you don’t like fish or rice, you’re in the wrong place. All of the shop fronts are of uniform size which lends the place the feel of a village rather than a town which is home to 80,000 Mauritanians. There are a couple of ATMs in the city but Visa is king here which is useless to me but I’d already stocked up at the border.
At every street corner sits a man wearing a full head scarf and overcoat and selling mobile phone top-up cards. Business never seems to be booming. The breeze which has blown hard for the two days I’ve been here is welcome in that it takes the oomph out of the heat but it carries with it the stinging sands of the Sahara - a headscarf will be a prudent investment for this part of the world. It’s a hard place to live buffeted as it is by those sands all day every day. The sand is literally everywhere but the main street upon which the Mercedes is king. At least 70% of the cars here are old Mercedes and it seems as if 50% of those have shattered windscreens. Most eye-catching of all as I walk down the street are the clothes worn by many of the males here - draa - long, flowing, blue or light blue robes worn predominantly, it must be said, by the older generation.
It is cheap here though. It costs me 50c to use the internet for an hour, 80c for dinner - yes, fish with rice - and a nights’ accommodation in an auberge sets me back just under €8. Ultimately, although this is a drab little place, I’ve had a childish sense of excitement since I arrived here yesterday which is mostly down to the fact that I’m in a part of the world not very often seen. I’ve been here 24 hours now and there isn’t another traveller in sight which is no doubt down to the security warnings regarding any travel in Mauritania right now. There have been warnings posted regarding the potential kidnapping of westerners but I figure that I’m pretty safe; How can you kidnap a native of a land whose leader’s name is Inda?
I also get a taste of Mauritanian hospitality on a walk around the town today. I meet a guy on the street who invites me back to his place; “Come in, come in,” his words as he leads me to his house where he prepares tea - the longest, most intensive and convoluted tea making process I’ve ever witnessed and all of that for what amounts to a half of a shot glass of tea. Nice tea, mind, but surely not worth that effort. His English, like my French, is in need of polishing and so we nod and smile at each other throughout the hour I’m with him. Geography seems to be his favourite subject and he lists the names of several European countries and asks “Which capital?” I’m unsure as to whether I’m being tested or he’s genuinely curious. He asks me which countries I’m visiting in Africa, which leads to the following exchange….
Me: Senegal
Him: Is no good.
Me: Mali
Him: Is no good.
Me: Burkina Faso
Him: Is no good
Me: Um, I might go to Niger
Him: Is no good
Nigeria, apparently, is the only country in Africa, other than Mauritania of course, that he’d recommend I visit. This continues in our discussion of Europe and the rest of the world. Denmark, Sweden, Norway, France, Russia, Ukraine, England and many others are all dismissed as no good. The guy could have been a foreign affairs advisor to George W. Bush. But he does make a decent tea and he even offers to pay for a taxi to take me back to where I’m staying.

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